A Rare Rebuff For Beijing In The Pacific

Aerial view of Tuvalu’s capital, Funafuti, 2011. Tuvalu is a remote country of low lying atolls, making it vulnerable to climate change. Photo: Lily-Anne Homasi / DFAT

BEIJING’S LONG-RUNNING CAMPAIGN to strip Taipei of its international allies has suffered a rare setback.

The Pacific nation of Tuvalu (seen above), which is little more than a collection of coral atolls, has rebuffed overtures from state-backed Chinese companies to build artificial islands that would mitigate the threat it faces from rising sea levels.

There is plenty of room for such construction. Tuvalu, one of the smallest independent nations with a population of barely 11,000, has a land areas of 26 square kilometres but it is dispersed over 1.3 million square kilometres of the central Pacific.

Tuvalu would have been expected to cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in return for Chinese support. Kiribati and the Solomon Islands did so in September, following offers from Beijing of financing and aircraft, leaving just four Pacific island nations in Taipei’s camp.

Tuvalu has been thought a possibility to follow suit following elections in September that led to the replacement of its Taiwan-friendly prime minister Enele Sopoaga by Kausea Natano. Fears of becoming debt-dependent in Beijing and of Chinese military bases appearing in the region weighed heavily in the new government’s decision.

Tuvalu’s new foreign minister, Simon Kofe, had previously told Australian radio that he did not expect any change in Tuvalu’s relationship with Taiwan. He now says he is looking to form a common front with Taipei’s other three allies in the region, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru, to counter Beijing’s expansion in the Pacific.

More support from the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to the same end is likely, including naval patrols.

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