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Weaponized tourism: China uses citizens as diplomatic pressure points

Chinese flags.
Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Pacific island nation of Palau has lost much of its tourism in the last year or so — hotels and tour boats are empty and travel agencies are closing shop, reports Reuters’ Farah Master.

The big picture: Palau, which is one of Taipei’s 18 remaining allies in the world, is caught in the middle of the diplomatic entanglement between China and Taiwan. China is likely curbing tourism as a way to force Palau back into its good graces.

What happened: China banned tour groups to Palau over its apparent lack of diplomatic status last year.

  • “Some believe that the dollars were allowed to flow in and now they are pulling it back to try and get Palau to establish ties diplomatically," Jeffrey Barabe, owner of Palau Central Hotel and Palau Carolines Resort in Koror, told Reuters.
  • Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said China has convinced four countries with aid and investment packages to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in two years.

The trend: China has used tourism as leverage before to pressure countries to express a political stance — China stopped tours to South Korea last year when it installed a U.S. missile defense system.

What they're saying: China’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters: “The one China principle is the pre-condition and political foundation for China to maintain and develop friendly cooperative relations with all countries around the world.” The principle states Taiwan is part of China.