US will resume Peace Corps program in Palau as it moves to counter Chinese influence in Indo-Pacific

Feb 2, 2024, 7:00 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will resume a long-suspended Peace Corps program in the North Pacific island of Palau as the Biden administration continues moves to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

The Peace Corps said Friday that it would start sending volunteers back to the island in 2025 following an agreement reached between the agency’s director and Palau’s president, whose country is one of the few in the world to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

“Volunteers will live and work side-by-side with community partners to improve childhood literacy and math and science skills, along with teaching English as a foreign language,” Peace Corps director Carol Spahn said in a statement.

Palau’s resident, Surangel Whipps, said the return of the Peace Corps reflects the strong relationship between his nation and the United States. He said prior Peace Corps members had become “an integral part of our national family,” and he extended his gratitude to them and to a program he said “has enriched our country in countless ways.”

“To those Peace Corps members preparing to come and contribute to Palau,” Whipps said, “welcome home.”

The Peace Corps programs in Palau and in the Federated States of Micronesia began in 1966 but were shut down in 2014 after more than 4,400 volunteers had served there.

Since then, as China has made successful inroads in the Pacific, successive U.S. administrations have sought to improve relations with the island nations, including by opening or reopening several embassies and renegotiating cooperation agreements known as compacts of free association last year with Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

Palau is among the 12 countries that still recognize Taiwan’s statehood and do not have diplomatic relations with Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be part of Chinese territory. The U.S. has encouraged these countries to maintain formal ties with the self-governed island.

Peace Corps officials said they hope that with congressional funding the Palau reopening will be the first of several new programs it will restart in the Pacific.

The Peace Corps, a creation of the John F. Kennedy administration, currently has Pacific island programs in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.


Associated Press writer Didi Tang contributed to this report.

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US will resume Peace Corps program in Palau as it moves to counter Chinese influence in Indo-Pacific