Are the Uighurs Bound for a Doomed Island?

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 8:14 AM EDT

As Nick and Kevin have noted, 17 Uighurs may soon be headed for the tiny Pacific nation of Palau. This strikes me as a little odd, because when Palau's government isn't offering to accommodate Guantanamo detainees, it's publicly fretting that the country may become unliveable because of global warming.

At the United Nations, Palau is one of the savviest, loudest voices (admittedly there aren't many) calling for the international community to help small island countries whose existence is threatened by climate change. Palau says it has already lost one third of its coral reef ecosystems, which it depends on for food and tourism, due to rising ocean temperatures and increasingly frequent storms. The government fears that if these weather patterns continue, the islands will no longer be able to sustain its population of around 20,000 people. Palau's UN ambassador, Stuart Beck, has said that "the destruction of coral reefs is tantamount to the destruction of our country."

Palau's dire predictions never seemed to result in much tangible assistance. Now the US is pledging the country $200 million in development aid. Just to put that in perspective, that's $10,000 per person, and nearly twice as much as the US gives to Rwanda. In 2007, US aid to Palau totaled $27 million. But the extra money has nothing to do with the Uighurs, of course.