Little Palau pins hopes on Taiwan travel bubble to help virus-ravaged tourism

TAIPEI, March 30 (Reuters) – Palau looks forward to opening a travel bubble with Taiwan to help revive its battered tourism industry, the president of Palau said on Tuesday, in a strategic Pacific region where China is vying for influence with loans. Economic boost and aid.

Palau, one of only 15 countries that maintains formal diplomatic ties with China-claimed Taiwan and a staunch U.S. ally, nearly closed its borders last year to stem the spread of COVID-19, albeit at an economic cost, and No cases have ever been recorded.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., who met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei before opening the travel corridor on Thursday, said they were ready to receive Taiwanese as the U.S.-supplied vaccine rolls out in his archipelago nation of fewer than 20,000 people.

“We’ve given the vaccine a shot in the arm; allowing tourists in is a shot in the arm for our economy,” Whipps said.

“It’s very important because, as you know, a lot of us are out of work because we’re so dependent on tourism.”

Taiwan’s outbreak is well contained domestically, with only 33 active cases, giving Taipei the confidence to allow a bubble to emerge. It takes less than four hours to fly from Taiwan to Palau.

The Whips trip coincided with the resumption of Chinese air force operations near Taiwan on Monday after Beijing accused Washington of demanding that John Hennessey-Niland, the U.S. ambassador to Palau, appear as part of the president’s delegation.read more

Earlier on Tuesday, the ambassador said it was a “privilege” to be part of the delegation.

“I know Taiwanese describe the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan as ‘true friends, real progress.’ I think that description applies to all three countries — the U.S., Taiwan and Palau,” he added.

The Pacific is the scene of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Washington, with China snapping away two of Taiwan’s allies in the region, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, in 2019.

The United States has accused China of practicing “debt-trap diplomacy” in the Pacific, something Beijing denies.

Ben Blanchard reports

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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