Palau seeks more than money

A Japanese representative for the Republic of Palau is seeking support, both moral and financial, for the small South Pacific island country, which he said has suffered a terrible setback since the bridge connecting its two main islands collapsed in 1995.

Palau, with an area of 458 sq. km, relies mainly on agriculture, fishing and tourism, said Toshio Masuda, chief adviser for Palau’s National Congress. But the recent collapse of its major bridge has crippled the national economy, he said, adding that the cost of rebuilding it is estimated at $81.8 million — half of the nation’s gross national product.

He stressed that Palau is not just looking for money but for recognition and support, and he hopes Japan can see its way to lending a hand. Palau has a long colonial history. First ruled by Spain, it was sold to Germany and then was a colony of Japan from 1914 to the end of World War II. Following the war, Palau became a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands under the United States, gaining its independence two years ago.

The prewar Palau “was greatly influenced by Japanese culture,” Masuda said. When Japanese occupied the country, they built an infrastructure, educational system and taught the people the importance of education.

Palau even enacted a law to protect objects and remnants of Japanese culture, according to Masuda. Time spent under Japanese occupation spawned a sense of closeness on the side of Palau people and vestiges can still be seen. Masuda cited as an example the use of “tochi daicho” (land registration) written in Chinese characters for national land management. The same method is used in Japan.

Despite this strong affection for Japan, the Japanese are ostensibly unaware of Palau, its people and culture, Masuda said, pointing out that the few people who do recognize it know it as a famous scuba diving spot or as a World War II battleground where 20,000 people died, more than its current population of about 17,000.