Palau President admits to being colonial vassal of the United States

A leaked letter from Surangel S, Whipps, Jr, President of Palau to an as yet unnamed United States Senator has revealed a number of controversial statements from the nominal head of state, not least his reference to Palau as “part of the homeland” (USA). 

The letter has not just drawn condemnation from home and abroad, but has also called into question the independence of not just Palau but also the Republic of Marshall Islands, as well as the Federated States of Micronesia. 

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Leaked letter from the President of Palau to the United States Senate

Is Palau independent?

Despite a rich Micronesian history spanning thousands of years, since the 18th century until the present day, the islands of Palau have been governed by foreign forces, often with devastating consequences.

First conquered by Spain, they were then “sold” to Germany, before being annexed by Japan at the outbreak of the Great War. Following World War I, the League of Nations formally placed the islands under Japanese administration as part of the South Seas Mandate.

Japanese rule was relatively benign until the outbreak of World War 2 from where it would become an important Japanese base, particularly with regard to the 1941 invasion of the American colony of the Philippines. 

Japanese rule was finally ended in 1944 following the infamous battle of Peleliu which saw over 12,000 American and Japanese troops perish during the fighting. 

The United States duly took over, controlling Palau as a “trust territory” alongside the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

The Compact of Free Association 

The three Trust Territories would slowly gain independence from the US through the 1980’s with the Republic of Palau gaining its own in 1994 under the so-called “Compact of Free Association”.

Said compact grants the three states access to a number of financial programs available to US states, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to even Medicaid, as well as a whole heap in between.

Compact citizens and US nationals may also live and work in either jurisdiction thereby creating what is in essence a passport union, not all that dismissal to how the colony of Puerto Rico is treated.

Controversially goods made in Palau and the other territories can also be labelled as “made in the USA”, while not adhering to the US federal minimum wage. An average factory worker in Palau earns less than $8,000 per year and for some time Palau had the largest female-to-male imbalance in the world, due to imported Asian factory workers.

Why does the Compact of Free Association exist?

As with most things colonial it largely boils down to the area being extremely strategic militarily with President Surangel S, Whipps, Jr wording it as such;

“Together our island give strategic control to the sea and air between Hawaii and Asia larger in area than the contiguous United States”.

In monetary terms, he further stated that replacing the military bases in the region (were Palau to ally with China) would “cost the US $100 billion”.

It would also remove the area as a nuclear testing ground for the US, whose evacuation and subsequent bombing of Bikini Atoll have rendered the area uninhabitable for the people that viewed it as the sacred land of their ancestors. 

The United Nations and Taiwan

Many have also argued that not only does the compact grant the US 3 extra seats in the United Nations but that they are also used as pawns in the three-way relationship that is the United States, China and Taiwan.

This means that while the USA respects the One China policy, the “independent” states of Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia can all recognize Taiwan, thus giving it votes within the UN.

Previously the majority of the Pacific recognized Taiwan over the PRC, although this has seen rapid changes over the last few years with Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and most recently Nauru swapping to the People’s Republic of China.

Palau though has not only retained their relationship with Taiwan but as per the president’s letter are now using the China threat in order to garner more support from their colonial overlords with the President stating “Every day it is not approved (the bill) plays into the hands of the CCP and the leaders here (some of whom do “business” with the PRC) who want to accept its seemingly attractive economic offers” – expertly using McCarthyism rhetoric in order to peruse his goals. 

A no-win situation

And it is for these many complex reasons that many islanders feel they are stuck in a relationship that is not only unhealthy but is also damaging to the culture of the country.

As one local bar owner put it “We feel that we have given away too much of our culture and are trying to be American, not Palauan. Even our congress building is modeled on the US one. The problem is they bribe us economically, so no one wants to rock the boat”.

Despite the economic incentives though, many within the country from workers to politicians are being enticed by China, with the President stating that China had told them it could “fill every hotel room in the country and more if they are built”, as well providing $20 million a year for a call center. 

China previously dominated the heavily important tourism sector in Palau, although guests have not returned since the pandemic. Whether this was a political move, or not is of little importance to those in the industry, with US patrons as of yet not filling the void.

The leaked letter could thus be extra damaging to those in the tourism sector, with one local tour guide telling Eastern Angle “We are just trying to earn a living and don’t want to be stuck in the middle of political battles that do not benefit us. Aid only goes so far, with tourism, we were at least supporting ourselves, even if it was through Chinese guests”. 

Yet while many Palauans would like to see a more equal relationship with the United States, the chances of Uncle Sam loosening its grip on a key American colony are very unlikely.