The Pacific nation of Palau urged the U.S. this week to build military bases on its island territory amid growing Chinese influence in the western Pacific region.
U.S. Pentagon chief Mark Esper visited Palau last week as part of a tour of the Pacific. It was the first-ever visit to the island by a U.S. defense secretary. During his visit, Esper accused Beijing of a “malign influence” in the region marked by “ongoing destabilizing activities” in the western Pacific Ocean.
Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. revealed this week that he sent a hand-delivered letter to Esper during his stay on Palau in which he urged the U.S. to build military infrastructure on the islands, which constitute an archipelago roughly 930 miles east of the Philippines.
“Palau’s request to the U.S. military remains simple – build joint-use facilities, then come and use them regularly,” Remengesau reportedly said in the letter.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the letter said, “the nation of 22,000 was open to hosting land bases, port facilities, and airfields for the U.S. military. Remengesau also suggested a U.S. Coast Guard presence would help Palau patrol its vast marine reserve, which covers an area of ocean the size of Spain and is difficult for the tiny nation to monitor.”
Palau struggles to monitor its own sovereign territory because it has no military. The U.S. is responsible for Palau’s defense under a compact of free association signed with Washington in 1994 upon the island’s independence from five decades of U.S. administration. The U.S. military maintains access to the islands through the deal, although it has no troops permanently stationed in Palau.