Palau. According to countryaah, Johnson Toribiong, formerly Palau’s ambassador to Taiwan, took office as the country’s new president in January. He won the election in November 2008 with 51 percent of the vote. In his election campaign, he talked about the importance of Palau becoming more self-sufficient and attracting foreign investors. Also in 2009, much of the debate was about how the country should cope when US aid is expected to cease in 2010. Palau’s economy was in crisis in 2009, partly as a result of the international financial crisis. Tourism decreased compared to the previous year, food prices went up while wages remained at a low level, according to Finance Minister and Vice President Kerai Mariur.
Under the Compact of Free Association agreement, concluded in 1982, the United States is to provide Palau with financial support against allowing the United States to have military bases in the country. The United States also manages Palau’s defense. Since the agreement was last renewed in 1994, Palau has received over US $ 20 million a year from the US. On September 30, 2009, the financial aid agreement expired. It was planned to be renegotiated, but in November it had not yet happened. Palau requested that the agreement be extended by one year. When the annual aid expires, Palau may start withdrawing money from the fund that has been built up with US money since the agreement was signed. In the fall of 2009, $ 140 million was in the fund.
In June, Palau agreed to receive six Chinese Uighurs who had been imprisoned for more than seven years at the US military base Guantánamo in Cuba, despite being released from suspicions of crime as early as 2005. The men were received by President Toribiong when they arrived in Palau on November 1. They received housing, health care and English education. Palau has given them a sanctuary waiting for them to settle permanently in any other country, which can take a long time. China had demanded that the United States extradite the Uighurs to China, which the United States did not do because the men were at risk of torture there. The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China.
Palau wants to create the world’s first nature reserve for sharks in water belonging to the archipelago. President Toribiong announced the plans at the UN General Assembly meeting on September 25. The idea is to give the endangered sharks a real sanctuary in an area roughly the size of France. There are about 350 sharks in the world, several of which are endangered. About 130 of these are in Palau’s water. Toribiong also demanded an international ban on the extensive shark fishing, which only involves catching fishermen’s fins. Shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a delicacy in East Asia.
In November, Palau, along with ten other Pacific Islanders, demanded that the UN adopt a legally binding agreement at the Copenhagen climate summit in December. The group’s spokesman, Palau’s UN ambassador Stuart Beck, said before the UN General Assembly that only a binding climate agreement can save low-lying countries such as the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. The disappointment was therefore great among the Pacific countries when it became clear that the climate summit did not lead to a binding UN document signed by all countries.