The Senate in its session on Tuesday. July 5. 2017 by an evenly split vote of 5 - 5, failed to pass Senate Joint Resolution No. 10-11 urging President Remengesau to establish a trade agreement with the People's Republic of China.
According to sources in the Senate, three Senators Mark Rudimch, Frank Kyota, and Mason Whipps were out of the country and the 10 votes on the floor were five YES - Hokkons Baules, Aric Nakamura. John Skebong, Kerai Mariur, and Stevenson Kuartei and five NO - Camsek Chin, Phillip Reklai, Regis Akitaya, Rukebai Inabo, and Uduch Senior.
The vote was divided between the supporters of Taiwan which has been close ally and benefactor Palau and of mainland China due to its growing influence in Palau mainly from increasing investments and tourists to the country.
Some Palau leaders have visited mainland China in recent months to promote trade and business which is causing concern of the Taiwan ambassador to Palau who has met many government, business, and community leaders in past weeks lobbying against relationship with China. Palau leaders still value the close diplomatic ties with Taiwan but see the relationship with China as strictly on trade and business.
Taiwan today has over 15 trade agreements with China even though they are asserting their independence. The resolution introduced by Senate President Hokkons Baules was reported out by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and State Matters chaired, by Sen. Nakamura in the last day of the special session on Tuesday. The committee findings in the report state "that in order to facilitate the growth of the Republic of Palau's economy, a trade agreement with the People's Republic of China is a step forward towards our goals".
Of the seven committee members, four signed the committee report including Nakamura and Skebong with Kuartei and Chin signing with reservations and Reklai not signing the report with Rudimch and Kyota off-island and didn't sign. On the floor vote, Reklai joined the opposition making the No votes five thus causing the defeat of the resolution.
Senate President said the resolution will be revived during the regular session to start next week when all members will return including Mark Rudimch and Frank Kyota who are expected to join the YES faction. After the vote and recess when the session resumed, Senate President Baules announced the removal of Reklai from the chairmanship of the tourism committee and membership in the foreign affairs committee. When asked for the reason, he said he lacks cooperation with other members of the committee who supported the ouster.
This will be the second time in the past six months since the inauguration of the 10th Senate that Senator Reklai has been ousted from a Senate position. After the inauguration, he was elected Floor Leader of the Senate. However, he was removed from the third highest post in the Senate in April when he was accused by a Senate staff of touching her behind. But he kept his chairmanship position of the tourism committee and membership in foreign affairs until Tuesday. This will be another milestone in OEK history of leadership shakeup.