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KOROR, Palau (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 10) - Three Taiwanese Navy vessels pulled into the harbor of the Rock Islands last week flying Palauan flags and teaming with white-clad sailors eager for two days of leave. An arrival, officials said, that is just another sign of the strengthening bond between the two nations.

Called the Fleet of Friendship, the Taiwanese naval visit is the third such trip to Palau in three years. The visits, which bring nearly 900 sailors, follow the establishment of a Taiwanese embassy in Koror in 1999 and a concerted effort on the part of President Tommy Remengesau's administration to cultivate relationships with leading Asia-Pacific nations.

Minister of State Temmy Shmull said Taiwan "has generously assisted" Palau with road projects, the construction of the current airport terminal, scholarships, and most recently giving $2.2 million for a new national museum. As well, Taiwanese businessmen have invested money in several businesses here, particularly hotels.

Shmull said such relationships are vital for a small Pacific island nation such as Palau, which has a population under 20,000.

"We are very pleased that it has become an annual visit," Shmull said during a welcoming ceremony at the commercial port. "This is an important way to foster understanding between the people of Republic of Palau and the Republic of China (Taiwan)."

"This is another sign of the growing relationship between our countries," said Clark Chen, the Taiwanese ambassador in Palau. He said all the sailors should go back home and tell their friends and relatives about the "big reservoir of friendship" Palau has for them.

But apparently, Taiwan already has received that message.

Unlike Guam, which depends primarily on Japanese and some Korean tourists, Palau has been able to tap into the Taiwanese market. Largely because of the addition of direct charter flights to Palau, Taiwan makes up 27 percent -- or 16,000 -- of the tourists that visited here in 2002, according to a report by the Palau Visitors Authority. Japanese tourists comprise 40 percent.

As the Naval vessels pulled into port, a few dozen Taiwanese tourists mingled with Palauans to greet the sailors. Many of the Taiwanese tourists posed next to stock-still formations of sailors, holding out the two-finger peace sign as friends snapped pictures. Palauans put leis on the top naval brass and handed them coconut drinks to combat the tropical sun.

Rear Adm. Tsong-Rong Chu said the Friendship Fleet serves two purposes. The first is getting new cadets who learned to be sailors in the classroom out in the field.

"We want to give them practical experience," Chu said.

The second is bringing goodwill to nations friendly to Taiwan.

About 200 Palauans, mostly families, gathered at Asahi baseball field to watch an afternoon demonstration by a Naval band and guard followed by a martial arts display. The highlight of that performance was a man breaking several concrete slates with his head.

"It's fantastic," said Koror resident Adair Sumang, 38, who stood near the edge of the field with his son, watching the display. "I mean, you can see all the smiles around," Sumang said while gesturing toward the stands.

The Fleet of Friendship is next headed to Central America and the Caribbean.

March 10, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com 

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