30 Mar 2021

Taiwan travel bubble a lifeline for Palau's economy

8:36 pm on 30 March 2021

Palau's President Surangel Whipps Jr has welcomed a travel bubble with Taiwan as a lifeline for his country's economy, devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and (to his left) President Surangel Whipps Jr in Taipei, 30 March 2021.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and (to his left) President Surangel Whipps Jr in Taipei, 30 March 2021. Photo: Ongerung Kambes Kesolei

Whipps, who is in Taiwan for a four-day official visit, responded to journalists' questions about what the bubble meant for the country, saying it was "really important for us economically".

"Forty percent of our budget is being financed through loans because of the pandemic. So economically it's very important for us to keep the bubble going," Whipps said.

He added that it was also important for Palau to be able to bring its citizens to Taiwan for medical treatment.

President Whipps will be returning to Palau on 1 April with 110 tourists from Taiwan to kick off the travel bubble.

He assured the public that under the bubble arrangement travel would be done safely and that the risk of Covid-19 infection from the visitors would be minimal.

Whipps also reiterated that the bubble will not be possible without Palau's strong partnership with the Taipei government.

Greeted by Taiwanese officials led by Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Sunday, Whipps in a brief statement at the airport said the bubble would be the first between a "Covid-19-free" country (Palau) and a "Covid-19-safe" country (Taiwan).

"We trust what Taiwan has done is an example of a successful country in combating Covid-19. We feel now that we can work together and feel safe," he said.

"We trust each other, and I think this is the basis of this sterile corridor."

Whipps said that Palau, as a tourism-reliant country, had been hit hard by the pandemic with 42 percent of the workforce in the private sector losing their jobs.

President Whipps is expected to meet with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen today,

China relationship

Asked about Palau's relationship with China, President Whipps compared it to an unhealthy marriage.

"When the number of tourists in Palau climbed over 150,000, over 100,000 of them were coming from China. And that was a great boost to the economy and it got everybody excited.

"But it was kind of like a teaser. Next thing you know, we were banned, and tourism dropped. And I said, if you're in a relationship - I use this example: you don't beat your wife to make them love you. That's not what you do."

He also said nations couldn't tell Palau who it can be friends with, and that a carrot stick approach by China was "counterproductive."

The US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland joined Whipps delegation to Taiwan. The US formally recognizes one-China policy.

Whipps said he has asked the US ambassador to join the trip because of Washington's work to bring Covid-19 vaccines to Palau.