Outgoing Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. handed over the governance of the island nation to President-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. during Thursday’s inauguration.
It was a ceremony steeped in tradition, with speeches from local leaders and a traditional chant of leadership called ‘chesols’ marking the change.
Palau’s closest regional allies such as the ambassadors of the United States, Australia, Japan, and Taiwan witnessed the leadership transition.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also flew in from Taipei to attend the inauguration.
In his inaugural speech, the new President reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to uphold the close alliance and emphasized the vital role these nations played in Palau’s development throughout the years and resilience during the pandemic.
“Just as we have been blessed with so many dedicated leaders here — so does Palau which has been blessed with true friends and partners that have stood with us through the good times and our many diplomatic allies that provided incredible support and has helped us in combatting the pandemic and also with our development,” he said.
He added: “They have helped us get access for our people — fundamental human rights, healthcare, and education, water, electricity, technology and helped us be protected from our foreign aggressors and helped combat climate change.”
Whipps also mentioned the U.S. government’s support during the pandemic. As a result, he says Palau has become one of the few nations to remain COVID-free.
“The United States — for purpose of COVID-19 —- has treated Palau as one of its own. From the CARES Act to the vaccine which is distributed each day. As of yesterday 2400 of the 3000 that have been received have been distributed. The United States has never forgotten Palau. It is with their help that we are ready now for a swift recovery.”
The new president also mentioned the establishment of a sterile corridor between Palau and Taiwan as one of the initiatives to boost the island nation’s economy safely during the pandemic.
Whipps Jr. said the friendship between Taiwan and Palau will be strengthened as they become the first two countries to fully reconnect during the pandemic.
He said a trip into the sterile corridor would be taking a domestic flight — one short trip between two COVID safe cities within a single COVID-safe system.
According to Whipps Jr, the sterile corridor will revitalize personal, medical, educational, and business relationships. And boost Palau’s economy at a time of need.
While not mentioning China specifically, the new president says that some nations have tried to muscle their way into the country as they have elsewhere, and Palau has rightfully refuted these aggressive actions.
The new president will take over the nation’s pending initiatives such as the renegotiation of the Compact of Free Association as well as Palau’s offer to accommodate more military presence within its jurisdiction.