WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper will travel to the tiny North Pacific island nation of Palau next week, as well as to Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

It will be only Esper's second international trip since the coronavirus pandemic hit early this year, forcing him to scale back his 2020 travel plans. He has made the Asia-Pacific region his top policy priority, although Palau is a rare destination for an American defense secretary.

Palau, an archipelago situated southeast of the Philippines, was administered by the United States for half a century before gaining independence in 1994. It is now among the Freely Associated states of the Pacific, along with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, which are sovereign nations but have compacts with the U.S. that govern economic and other relations.

Guam was the scene of a lengthy and drama-filled U.S. Navy battle against the coronavirus; the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt pulled into Guam last spring after suffering a virus outbreak that killed one sailor.

During his trip, Esper will attend commemorative events marking the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The battleship USS Missouri, aboard which Allied and Japanese representatives signed the war’s surrender documents on Sept. 2, 1945, is now a memorial standing in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.

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