Taipei, Oct. 24 (CNA) Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) will visit Taiwan’s Pacific ally Palau next week to boost two-way travel and strengthen cooperation between the two countries, the Presidential Office announced Monday.
Leading a 100-member delegation, Lai will depart Taipei on Nov. 1 for a three-day trip to Palau, Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) said in a press briefing.
According to Chang, the main focus of Lai’s trip will be to find ways to boost tourism in Palau given that the sector, which is one of Palau’s main income earners, has been hard hit over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. just concluded a week-long visit to Taiwan mainly to attend the National Day celebrations of the Republic of China, the official name of Taiwan.
During that trip from Oct. 5 to 12, the Palauan leader proposed to further deepen two-way travel and invited President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to visit his country as both sides are relaxing COVID-19 preventive measures and reopening to tourism, according to Chang.
Since the president had other business to attend to, Tsai asked Lai to visit Palau instead to show the high priority Taiwan’s government places on its ties with Palau, Chang said.
Taiwan has lifted entry quarantine requirements and reopened its borders to all visitors starting Oct. 13.
Taiwan-based China Airlines is expected to resume regular flights between Taiwan and Palau on Nov. 16, Chang said, adding that the government is hoping the two sides will soon resume travel exchanges to the level they were before the pandemic.
Taiwanese outbound travel to Palau has had two peak periods in the past two decades — from 2003 to 2007 when visits peaked at 41,909 in 2004, and from 2011 to 2014 when visits peaked at 37,512 in 2012, according to Tourism Bureau figures.
Visits from Taiwan fell to 9,884 in 2017, but when China, the source of roughly half the Pacific island country’s visitors and considerable investment in its tourism sector, blocked its nationals from visiting Palau starting in late 2017, Palau hoped Taiwan could pick up some of the slack.
Taiwanese visitors rose to 15,511 by 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended any momentum, and a travel bubble set up between the two countries in March 2021 to great fanfare did not meet expectations.
Only 2,621 Taiwanese visited Palau in 2021, and another 1,019 went there in the first eight months of 2022, Tourism Bureau figures showed.
Traveling with Lai will be hotel executives and tourism sector representatives to explore new opportunities.
Also in the group, meanwhile, will be hospital workers preparing to open a new long-distance medical center and assist with COVID-19 prevention efforts.
According to the Presidential Office, Lai and his delegation are scheduled to arrive in Palau at 1 p.m. Palau time on Nov. 1 and meet with President Whipps Jr. before attending a welcome banquet hosted by Palau’s parliament.
Lai will visit Taiwan’s technical mission in Palau and attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a new road in the country funded by Taiwan’s government and then attend a dinner hosted by President Whipps Jr. later that day, Chang said.
On Nov. 2, Lai will tour the Rock Islands, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012, with President Whipps Jr. serving as Lai’s tour guide. That night, Lai will host a dinner for the Palaun leader, according to Chang.
On the last day of his three-day trip, Lai will inaugurate the long-distance medical center in Palau, a joint initiative of Taipei-based Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital and the Palau Ministry of Health & Human Services.
He will also witness a ceremony in which a Taiwan-based NGO will donate baseball equipment to Palau.
Lai will head back to Taiwan that afternoon.
Other members of Lai’s delegation include Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang (田中光) and Tourism Bureau Director-General Chang Shi-chung (張錫聰).
The trip will mark Lai’s third overseas visit this year.
Lai attended the inauguration of Honduras President Xiomara Castro in January and visited Tokyo in July to pay his respects to former Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe, who died after being shot twice during a campaign event in Nara on July 8.
(By Joseph Yeh)
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