The Republic of Palau has asked the Pentagon to build ports, bases and airfields on the island nation, officials said, offering a boost to U.S. military expansion plans in Asia, as Washington aims to counter China.
The request came during a visit here last week by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the first-ever trip by a U.S. Pentagon chief to the tiny republic, which is made up of hundreds of islands in the Philippine Sea and is closely aligned diplomatically with Taiwan.
Mr. Esper traveled to Palau as part of a U.S. effort to realign its military footprint in the region, adhering to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which calls for enhanced steps to meet security challenges posed by China.
Beijing has moved to lay claim to islands in the South China Sea, a major global trade route. China also has increased jet-fighter flights near Taiwan, fought a border skirmish with India and passed a national-security law to limit Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Contesting Chinese maritime claims, the U.S. conducted a so-called freedom-of-navigation operation Aug. 27, sending the USS Mustin, a U.S. Navy destroyer, into the South China Sea, among a number of other such operations. The Mustin also transited the Taiwan Strait earlier last month, and B-2 stealth bombers and B-1 heavy bombers conducted a combined exercise with Australia last month, demonstrating their capabilities in the region.