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Friendship earned, not forced: Palau president

2018/11/13 18:54:08

Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr.

Taipei, Nov. 13 (CNA) Calling Taiwan an important and productive partner of his country, visiting Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said Tuesday that "friendship is earned, not forced," amid continuing pressure from China to force the Pacific country to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

According to Palau's Bureau of Immigration, visitor arrivals from China totaled 70,741 in 2016, accounting for 47 percent of the international visitors that year. The number of visitors slid to 55,491 in 2017, before dropping to 25,659 in the first six months of 2018.

The steep decline is a result of Beijing's ban on group tours to Palau imposed in November 2017 because of the Pacific island nation's diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Asked to comment on Chinese pressure during a press conference in Taipei, Remengesau said that respect is a very important word for the people of Palau, no matter how big or small a country is.

"We respect freedom, sovereignty, human rights and democracy. These are the basic foundations for what we believe in. We hope other countries respect our principles, respect our values," he said.

Remengesau said he believes Beijing understands clearly Palau's principles.

Taiwan's government had previously announced that it has been sending more local tourism business and small and medium-sized business delegations to Palau in the recent months to boost business ties in the wake of the huge drop in the number of Chinese visitors to Palau.

Asked to comment, the Palauan leader welcomed and appreciated the visits to his country every year, as well as private sector investment from Taiwan in hotels.

During his visit, that will last until Wednesday, Remengesau expressed hope that more Taiwanese people will visit Palau and that Taiwanese air carriers can double or triple their flights in the near future.

In this way, Taipei can be used as transit point for tourists in the region to visit Palau, he said.

He also expressed hope that the Taiwan government will support Palau's hosting of the 2020 Our Oceans conference, an event designed as a forum committed to positive changes related to marine protected areas, climate change, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, sustainable blue economy and maritime security.

Taiwan has been a good friend of Palau for nearly 20 years since both countries formed diplomatic ties in 1999, the president said.

"We do strongly believe that Taiwan can be a strong friend to the world with its experience, its technology and its successful history," he said.

(By Joseph Yeh)