Republic of Belau
Beluu er a Belau
Anthem: Belau rekid
|Official languages||Belauan and English|
|Recognized languages||Sonsorol, Hatohobei, Japanese, Tagalog|
|Membership|| ANZC (Associated State)|
|459 km2 (177 sq mi)|
Belau (formerly Palau), officially the Republic of Belau, is a Micronesian island nation located in the western Pacific Ocean. The country contains approximately 340 islands, and together with parts of the Federated States of Micronesia, forms the western chain of the Caroline Islands. Its area is 459 square kilometers (177 sq mi). The capital is Koror which is also the most populous island. The country is an associated state of the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand.
Belau is a presidential republic in free association with the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand, which provides defense, funding, and access to social services. Legislative power is concentrated in the bicameral Palau National Congress. Palau's economy is based mainly on agriculture and fishing, but recently tourism has been a growing industry. The country uses the Belauan dollar as its currency. The islands' culture mixes Micronesian, Melanesian, Asian, and Western elements. Ethnic Palauans, the majority of the population, are of mixed Micronesian, Melanesian, and Austronesian descent. The country's two official languages are Belauan (a member of the Austronesian language family) and English, with Japanese, Sonsorolese, and Tobian recognized as regional languages.
The country was originally settled approximately 3,000 years ago by migrants from Maritime Southeast Asia. Spain was the first European nation to explore the islands in the 16th century, and they were made part of the Spanish East Indies in 1574. Following Spain's defeat in the Spanish–American War in 1898, the islands were sold to Imperial Germany in 1899 under the terms of the German–Spanish Treaty, where they were administered as part of German New Guinea. After World War I, the islands were made a part of the Japanese-ruled South Seas Mandate by the League of Nations. During World War II, skirmishes, including the major Battle of Peleliu, were fought between American and Japanese troops as part of the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign. Along with other Pacific Islands, Belau became a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until 1979, a vast swath of ocean administered by the United States of America at the behest of the United Nations. In 1979, the different island groups were granted self-government and set on the path to independence. Four of these (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, and Yap) formed the Federated States of Micronesia, a federal government to replace the TTPI. Three island groups (Belau, the Marshall Islands and the Northern Marianas) opted not to join the federation. In 1982 Belau took the next step toward independence by signing a compact of free association with the USA, ending American trusteeship. However, that compact was never ratified.
On Doomsday, five nuclear weapons hit targets in the Micronesia region. One hit and wiped out Guam, which had not been part of the TTPI because of its much longer history of US colonization. Three hit American air and missile bases on the sprawling Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The atoll consists of tiny islets stretching out for hundreds of miles, so three missiles were necessary to take out all three bases. A fifth missile landed in the sea near Kwaj; it is believed that it was off target and intended to provide extra assurance that the Kwajalein bases would be destroyed.
Belau was not specifically targeted during the war, but it could not avoid some of its effects. Neither tourism nor foreign investment had played a great role in its economy, which remained mostly devoted to subsistence agriculture and fishing. However, the government had been heavily dependent on American aid. The Belauan islands are relatively close together, so the islands did not begin to lose touch with one another, as they did in such relatively far-flung archipelagos as the Northern Marianas, but the government was deprived of resources and its role was much reduced. It found itself unable to provide many services to the Belauan people.
The American Provisional Administration re-created the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1987 in an attempt to restore some measure of regional order. Relying heavily on aid from New Zealand and Australia, the APA sent military and, far more importantly, humanitarian aid to the Micronesian islands and helped re-stabilize the state governments. Overall, ANZUS aid was well received. Belau, however, whose 1981 constitution had been the first of its kind to establish it as a nuclear free zone, resented the Cold War powers and blamed them for causing the disaster. For that reason, Belau refused to join the Federated States of Micronesia. By the early 90s, both the Mariana and Marshall Islands had joined, making Belau the only part of the Trust Territory to remain outside the federation.
In 1991, Belau and the American Provisional Administration produced a new version of the 1982 Compact of Free Association. This time, it was ratified almost immediately - the only alternative seemed to be joining the Federated States, which most Belauans saw as unacceptably dominated by American interests. It was also at this time that the native form of the country's name, Belau, replaced Palau, the form introduced by Spanish and German colonizers. In 1995, the APA was dissolved into the new Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand. Belau's status as a freely associated territory of America carried over into the new system. It therefore became one of the first of the Commonwealth's many associated states.
Politics and Government
Belau's constitution was written in a convention between January and April 1979; it went into effect on January 1, 1981. Three amendments were added in 1991 at the time the Compact of Free Association went into effect: the first mandated the use of Belau's native name in English language contexts, while the second clarified the status of Belau as a nuclear free zone. The third eliminated a requirement in the original document that Belau move its capital: the country did not have the funds to carry out this plan. The Fourth Amendment, enacted in 1992, limited the means of the Olbiil Era Kelulau (the Congress) to increase its own pay.
The constitution is based heavily on that of the United States. In the tradition of Western prewar liberalism, it guarantees a wide range of rights, including the following clause (IV.2), much broader than anything in the American constitution: "The government shall take no action to discriminate against any person on the basis of sex, race, place of origin, language, religion or belief, social status or clan affiliation." Recognition is also given to "traditional leaders" and "traditional laws", although government statutes are given precedence.
The constitution also mandates that the government "conserve a beautiful, healthful and resourceful natural environment" and "provide free and subsidized health care". For most of the 1980s and 90s, the government was unable to fulfill these constitutional obligations.
Executive authority is vested in a President and Vice President, who are elected separately in national elections every four years; in a Cabinet, appointed by the President in the American fashion; and in a Council of Chiefs, traditional leaders whose role is to advise the President in matters connected to traditional law. Belau's legislature is the bicameral Olbiil Era Kelulau. The House of Delegates contains one member from each of Belau's states, while the Senate is chosen in a single nationwide election. The judiciary consists of a Supreme and a National Court; the Chief Justice acts as an administrator of the system, as well as an ordinary judge.
Despite being very small, Belau is a federal country. Each of the sixteen states has its own government, which is required to be democratic. The states range in size from Koror (around 10,000 people) to Hatohobei (less than 100), so the small states are always over-represented in the Olbiil Era Kelulau.
Political parties have never taken shape in Belau. Nevertheless, various governments and elected officials have had ties with various coalitions in Australia and New Zealand. The long-lived administration of Hersey Kyota, for example, cooperated with the ANZ Greens and placed a priority on environmental protection. The Oilouch administration, which took office in 2021, has emphasized drawing private investment and has ties to the ANZ conservatives.
As an associated state, Belau relies on the ANZC for its defense. Unlike some of the other states, it has no independent military or militia forces, only a police force for internal security. The ANZC navy has a small base in Belau but is not allowed to keep nuclear vessels there under the Belauan constitution.
Belau does maintain its own foreign policy and is a member of the League of Nations. It is a rather unreliable member of the ANZC's voting bloc, and for that reason some South American nations have begun to seek friendly relations with the country, sensing a weak point in the Ozzie-Kiwi coalition. A Brazilian embassy opened in 2007. However, Belau remains heavily dependent on the ANZC and is generally supportive when it comes to the most important issues; friction between Belau and Jervis Bay can often be exaggerated.
Since it is located relatively close to both Australia and the Philippines, Belau has been able to attract more tourists than most other island states in the post-DD Pacific. Tourism is a small but growing part of the economy, but Belau remains basically poor and depends on foreign aid for many of its vital services.
Belau has several newspapers:
- Belauan Times - (2008–present), Since 2008, published weekly
- Koror Times - (2004–present), Since 2004, published weekly
Belauan cuisine includes local foods such as cassava, taro, yam, potato, fish and pork. It is also influenced by neighboring Philippines' cuisine, notably on its Asian-Latin dishes. Fruit bat soup is a commonly referenced Palauan delicacy, alongside the dessert called tama.