The United States Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, published its 2020 Pacific Pledge on October 1, which promises over $200 million in new funding to countries in the Pacific region, including Palau.
“The United States considers the Pacific Islands to be important partners in fostering a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and we greatly value our historical ties, strong economic links, and mutual cooperation towards a brighter future,” the pledge states.
The funding includes $78 million in new programming and $130 million in the region’s COVID response.
Programs mentioned in the pledge which support Palau include water and power resiliency programs, drought resilience value planning, training and networking opportunities to promote gender equality, skill-training for local diplomats, and counter-drug trafficking operations.
In addition to the Freely Associated States of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands, which also receive Compact funding, the pledge includes Pacific nations such as Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, in programs such as fisheries development, agricultural improvement, disaster preparedness, and preservation of historical sites.
The pledge states that it will help islands tackle their “most pressing challenges”, such as economic and environmental resilience, maritime security, and good governance.
This comes at a time which has seen increased US attention in Palau, most notably a visit from US Defense Secretary Mark Esper in August, as well as recent contributions to Palau’s international security, such as plans for “joint-use” military sites, aerial surveillance programs, and, within the past two weeks, eight working dogs for drug and bomb detection. The pledge also coincides with advanced renegotiations for the terms of the Compact of Free Association between the US and Palau.
Many commentators locally and abroad attribute this attention to increased tensions between the US and countries on the Asian mainland, most notably China, which is also contending for influence in the Pacific, as well as Palau’s strategic position.