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Whipps: Palauans beginning to doubt US commitment

Politician talking in a crowd
Surnagel Whipps Jr.

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

The Palauan government is under pressure to convince its citizens that being in the crosshairs of China as a result of boosted ties with the U.S. is a risk worth taking, President Surangel Whipps Jr. said.

“It's a constant battle,” Whipps said in an interview with Voice of America.

He said the installation of the U.S. radar system and increased military exercises in Palau are triggering anxiety among Palauans.

“So, one of the things [some people are saying] is, ‘Oh the president is inviting the military, and now we're a target for China.’ It's constant. And that's why it's so important that we fulfill our commitments, that we show solidarity,” the president told VOA.

The Compact of Free Association’s economic provisions for Palau are set to expire on Sept. 30, 2024.

Of the $7 billion in 20-year economic packages pledged by the U.S. to the freely associated states, Palau stands to receive $890 million.

Palau and the U.S. negotiators have signed a memorandum of understanding on the renewal of COFA's economic provisions, but the U.S. Congress has yet to act on pertinent legislation.

I think the most important image that it projects on Palau and the people of Palau is, when the U.S. commits to something, are they really committed?” Whipps said.

Without a federal budget in place for fiscal 2024, the U.S. is currently operating on a continuing resolution that will extend next month. The Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, whose economic provisions expired on Sept. 30, are getting partial support under the continuing resolution. Palau is not included in the stopgap measure since its COFA provisions are still running under the unexpired cycle.

We didn't believe that our value is truly realized by the United States," Whipps said. "However, we understand that we have to have some compromise, and we have to move forward."

Whipps said Palau is aiming at achieving economic autonomy.

"One of our goals is to build a more resilient economy that's not so dependent on one partner, and especially a partner that's sometimes unfriendly," he told VOA.

"So, we've worked with the United States to conclude our Compact of Free Association agreement, which was really critical. Our Congress ratified it in July, and we were hoping that on Oct. 1, the U.S. Congress would do the same, because that's when it's supposed to be implemented."

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