TOKYO -- Palau will not bow to Chinese pressure to cut off Taiwan, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. told Nikkei, saying the Pacific Island nation would look to such countries as Japan for fresh sources of economic support.
The president granted an interview here on Thursday. As one of the 19 countries that still have diplomatic relations with the government in Taipei, Palau lacks formal relations with the mainland Chinese government.
Remengesau is not against dealing with the mainland. "China is an important partner," he said. "If we had a choice, we would like to recognize China and Taiwan tomorrow."
But shared "ideals, values and principles such as freedom" give Palau "more in common with Taiwan," he said. Remengesau said the country will never cut ties to the island to get in Beijing's good graces on his watch. Remengesau's term ends in 2021.
China has begun ramping up pressure on Palau to end relations with the administration of independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, according to media reports. Group tours to the tropical vacation destination have been banned, dealing a blow to one of its primary industries. Chinese tourism brought more than 88,000 visitors there a year at its peak.
"We have to diversify our sources of tourism, attracting tourists from many countries," Remengesau said. "We are mindful not to be dependent on one particular nation while we welcome tourists from China."
Toward this end, the country seeks both private investment from Japan and government support for "investment projects such as construction of hotels," the president said. Investment in the hospitality industry and increasing direct flights between Palau and Japan are among his top priorities for bilateral ties.
As relations with China have soured, Palau has relied on its military alliance with the U.S. for security. It has also shown support for Washington's foreign policy agenda, becoming one of just nine countries to oppose a United Nations resolution last December condemning the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
The U.S. and Israel "are our friends," Remengesau said. "There are times we have to show our strong support to our friends."
Palau supports Japanese plans to maintain "maximum pressure" on North Korea and looks to cooperate with Japan to curb smuggling in the waters surrounding Palau. Kim Jong Un's nuclear weapons and missile development casts a pall over the entire Asia-Pacific region, threatening substantial economic harm, the president warned.
Remengesau plans to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while in the country to attend the triennial Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, which runs from Friday to Saturday.