A host of Palau’s democratic allies have issued congratulatory messages to President Surangel Whipps Jr., who was inaugurated yesterday at the Capitol in Ngerulmud.

A message from former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referenced Palau’s role in promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific region”, a phrase which President Whipps himself used in his welcoming message.

“In this ever interconnected and changing world, it is through meaningful partnerships that we continue to work together to reaffirm our belief in freedom, justice, and democracy,” said Ms. Landisang Kotaro, Chief of Staff to President Whipps, at the inauguration.

President Whipps received messages from allies including the United States, Japan, Australia, the Republic of China-Taiwan, the Philippines, India, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Germany, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, the Slovak Republic, Bangladesh, and Cuba.

The inauguration was attended by a special delegation from the Republic of China-Taiwan, headed by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. The three-day visit by the Minister will include meetings with Palau’s current and former Presidents, and is expected to involve discussions on opening a “sterile corridor” between Taiwan and Palau, where two-way tourism will be possible.

The congratulatory message from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen referenced both nations’ “collective efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The statement from Mike Pompeo expressed hope that Whipps’ presidency will serve to “deepen our relationship, address shared challenges, [and] increase our defense cooperation”.

In his presidential address, Whipps praised the efforts of Taiwan and the US in keeping the COVID-19 pandemic out of Palau, emphasizing the “strength and depth of the bilateral partnership [between Palau and Taiwan”, and adding that “we remain COVID-free because the US . . . has treated Palau like one of its own”.

A message from Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga alluded to a “special bond [which has lasted] for over a hundred years” between Japan and Palau, adding that Japan has “steadily extended assistance in the field of quality infrastructure”, in reference to Japanese-funded projects such as the Koror-Babeldaob Bridge and the National Landfill, as well as the second fiber-optic cable which is set to be finished by 2023, funded by a “tri-lateral cooperation” between Japan, the US, and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s congratulatory remarks referenced shared interests in promoting a “secure, stable, and prosperous blue Pacific”.

Whipps also received congratulations from President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who called Palau “the Philippines’ closest Pacific island neighbor”, and President Ram Nath Kovind of India, who said that “our partnerships have become stronger through engagements under the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation”.

Statements from regional partners referred to Micronesian solidarity, and tackling shared challenges such as the “existential threat of climate change”, something which President Whipps’ address identified as a priority in the days ahead. President David Kabua of the Marshall Islands said that he looks forward to jointly promoting regional cooperation in areas like “climate change, oceans, and conservation”. President David Panuelo of the FSM alluded to jointly promoting the North Pacific as a region of importance that is “similar yet distinct” from other Pacific regions, referencing collaboration in the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit, the Micronesian Islands Forum, and the Pacific Islands Forum.  

“Palau has been blessed with true friends and partners,” President Whipps said in his address, stating that democratic allies have helped Palau to combat the pandemic, as well as given access to “fundamental human rights such as healthcare, education, water, electricity, technology, and [protection from] foreign aggressors”.

While not mentioning China by name, President Whipps stressed that “some nations have even tried to muscle their way into our country as they have elsewhere”, but added that Palau will continue to stand with its allies against these actions. 

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