- THE HILL - Sep 8, 2020 -
BY CELINE CASTRONUOVO
Defense officials said Tuesday that the Republic of Palau asked the Pentagon to begin construction on ports, bases and airfields on the island nation, according to reporting from The Wall Street Journal.
The move would enhance the U.S. military presence in Asia as President Trump's administration hopes to counter China's influence in the region.
According to Pentagon officials, the request for a U.S. military presence in Palau came during a visit to the country last week by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the first-ever trip to the island republic by a U.S. Pentagon chief.
Palau includes hundreds of islands in the Philippine Sea. It maintains a close diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, which Beijing considers to be a breakaway province.
Esper's trip to Palau was part of the Department of Defense's 2018 National Defense Strategy, which includes a goal to meet security challenges posed by China. One of the key components outlined in this strategy is to rebuild the U.S. military's advantage in Southeast Asia.
Earlier this month, Pentagon officials announced in a report that China is expected to double the roughly 200 nuclear warheads it currently has in its arsenal.
These developments come as Beijing has moved to claim islands in the major global trade route of the South China Sea. China has also increased jet-fighter flights near Taiwan and passed a national-security law that threatens Hong Kong’s autonomy.