Palau sees tourism revival with South Korea as economic security issue

Chungcheongbuk-do Governor Kim Young-hwan (L) with President Whipps

Security means many things, climate security, human security, energy security, economic security, and maritime security, to name a few.  Korea-Pacific Summit, held this week, called for regional security and a peaceful Pacific.

The Joint Declaration by Korea and Pacific Island countries state, “Noting that peace and stability in the Pacific region are interlinked with global peace and stability, the Leaders acknowledge the need to strengthen development cooperation and security collaboration including maritime security, climate security, energy security, cyber security, human security, public health, and transnational security.”

“Economic security is a priority for Palau and the region, given that most Pacific Island countries, Palau included, economies were devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said President Whipps Jr.  For people to feel secure, they must feel the economic security, he said.

“This was the issue I spent the first 10 minutes of our bilateral meeting talking about with the President of Korea Yoon Suk Yeol, establishing a direct flight between Korea and Palau,” President Surangel Whipps Jr. said in an interview with Island Times.

Whipps noted that Taiwan and Australia supported airline connections between the island countries to help with the transportation of goods and the tourism recovery.

China Airlines flew to Palau at a loss until the numbers picked up, and they’ve been flying regularly scheduled flights since last November. The Australian government, through its Flight Programme, is subsiding Air Nuigini to provide regular service between New Guinea and Palau. Whipps said he asked the Korean government to support Korean airlines in providing similar services.

“We want to be true partners, and true partners means realizing the challenges and being committed to meeting those challenges,” said Whipps of the support the regional partners can provide to help the region recover its economies.”

And indeed, this was one of the areas of cooperation expressed in the Joint Declaration. “Noting the potential for cooperation in the tourism field with the unique culture and natural environment of the Pacific region, the Leaders will continue efforts to strengthen infrastructure cooperation, including air and sea transportation between Korea and the Pacific Islands Forum to ensure a well-connected region.”

Palau has been courting Korean domestic airline Jeju Airlines to serve between Korea and Palau.  According to Peter Polloi of the Palau International Airport Cooperation (PIA), they are still negotiating the terms with Jeju Airlines. Online news says Jeju Airlines is looking to fly this July. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Asiana Airlines provided direct flights between South Korea and Palau. In 2019, the South Korean tourism market had the fourth-largest tourism share of the market.