The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, an ally of Taiwan, has urged the United States military to build bases on its territory.  Palau is an archipelago with a population of only 22,000 people. It is located about 930 miles east of the Philippines. It lies in a region where Washington is pushing back against growing Chinese influence.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau wrote a letter to the Pentagon in which, without naming China, said that “destabilizing actors have already stepped forward to take advantage” of the virus-related economic crises facing small island nations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made an unprecedented visit to the island nation last week, the first-ever visit by a U.S. Defense chief. He reiterated the Palauan president’s comments accusing  Beijing of being a “malign influence” as well as conducting “ongoing destabilizing activities” in the Pacific.

President Remengesau later revealed that he told Esper that the U.S. military was welcome to build facilities in his country. “Palau’s request to the U.S. military remains simple — build joint-use facilities, then come and use them regularly,” he said in the letter.

The letter addressed to Esper and marked “by hand delivery” said the tiny island nation was open to hosting land bases, port facilities, and airfields for the U.S. military. 

“Mr. Secretary, it has been a great relief to hear you, and other top U.S. officials, recognize the complex reality of Indo-Pacific security — which is as threatened by predatory economics as it is by military aggression,” he wrote.

“There are so many things that the U.S. can show leadership, as you can see China seems to be the main nation showing initiative and aggressively coming to the Pacific and establishing their mark.”

President Remengesau also suggested a U.S. Coast Guard presence in Palau to help patrol its vast marine reserve, which covers a large area of ocean. It is difficult for the tiny nation to monitor it because it has no military. The United States is responsible for Palau’s defense under an agreement with Washington called the Compact of Free Association.