Palau president says he expects China to try to meddle in election

By Thomson Reuters Jun 5, 2024 | 8:32 AM

By Sakura Murakami

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Pacific island nation of Palau expects China to attempt to meddle in a national election later this year over its recognition of Taiwan, President Surangel Whipps Jr. said in an interview with Reuters.

His support of Palau’s recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state makes him “the enemy” in the eyes of China, Whipps said, adding that China “would probably want to remove me and put somebody else in that would be more friendly to those overtures.”

“I think in every election the Chinese are always involved,” he added, speaking to Reuters during a visit to Tokyo a month before Japan hosts a meeting of Pacific island leaders.

Palau is one of 12 countries that still recognise Taiwan, after fellow Pacific island nation Nauru re-established relations with China days after Taiwan held a presidential election in January.

Washington and Beijing are vying for influence in the Pacific, as China increases its military presence in the area.

In a bid to boost capabilities in the region, the United States has begun work on an over-the-horizon radar system and has discussed the permanent deployment of U.S. Patriot missile defence batteries in Palau.

“The U.S. has said, we don’t think the threat is there yet… If there is a threat, of course, they’re responsible for our security. They will deploy them,” Whipps said of the potential Patriot system, without elaborating further.

Whipps also confirmed that Palau’s government had suffered a cyberattack in March, blaming China for the incident which saw some 20,000 documents stolen and leaked onto the dark web.

He met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday, where the two leaders affirmed the deepening of maritime security cooperation between their countries according to a statement by Japan’s foreign ministry.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Peter Graff)