Tuvalu is sinking in Pacific; country becoming ‘pawn’ in global competition

Tuvalu’s foreign minister expressed concern that climate change, which poses an existential threat to the Pacific nation, is being overlooked, and that neighboring island states may become “pawns” in a global struggle between China and the United States.

The superpower race, according to Simon Kofe, is a source of concern, since it diverts focus away from climate change, which is a top issue for Pacific islands threatened by rising sea levels.

“It’s critical that the Pacific takes care of these concerns,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “The last thing we want is for Pacific countries to be pitted against one another or exploited as puppets.”

Last year, Kofe drew international attention to his 12,000-strong nation by speaking at a global climate summit while wading ankle-deep in the water to demonstrate Tuvalu’s “sinking.” At high tide, 40% of the capital district is drowned, and the little country is expected to be completely inundated by the end of the century.

At a conference next month, Pacific Island leaders will address a contentious new security treaty between the Solomon Islands and China, according to Kofe. He said he had been informed on the topic by his Solomon Islands colleague and that, while Honiara claimed it was a domestic affair, it had regional ramifications.

“The Pacific approach of dealing with difficulties is by agreement, by sitting down and face to face,” he explained. For the past two years, COVID-19 has prohibited in-person meetings, and “some of these essential issues can only be handled when you meet face to face and genuinely have an open talk,” according to COVID-19.

After striking the security pact, which has unnerved allies Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, the US warned the Solomon Islands that it would have “grave concerns and respond accordingly” if any moves were taken to create a permanent Chinese military presence.

Beijing claims the agreement only concerns internal security and not a base, and that western criticism was interfering with the Solomon Islands’ sovereign decision-making.

Another important concern for Tuvalu is fishing, as China is seeking additional agreements for its fleet with Pacific islands. As part of expanded US participation to offset China’s growing influence, Washington said it will shortly unveil efforts to combat illicit fishing in the region.

“The Pacific is the world’s richest fishing area and is thought to be the last robust tuna fishery,” Kofe remarked. “That is truly a monument to the Pacific island countries’ conservation and management efforts.”

He claims that tiny Pacific islands that feed the globe from their economic exclusion zones bear a disproportionate burden.

“Tuna supports the economy of Japan, China, and many other nations,” he stated. “Bigger actors coming into the region should pay attention to what the Pacific is doing right now and utilize that as a model for collaboration on matters other than fisheries,” says one cheval cheval chevalier.

Tuvalu has suggested that Iakoba Taeia Italeli, its former governor-general, be appointed secretary general of the Commonwealth, marking the first time a Pacific nation has sought the position.

In the same remote interview, Italeli said, “It’s time for the Pacific to have a chance to lead and unify the Commonwealth.”

The Commonwealth chiefs of government will choose the next public face of the 54-member group of nations with connections to the old British empire when they convene in Rwanda in June. In the closely fought campaign, the incumbent, British peer Patricia Scotland, is seeking re-election.

Despite comprising 32 of the world’s 42 smallest governments, which are disproportionately impacted by climate change, the Commonwealth “failed to speak with one voice” during COP26, according to Italeli.

Tuvalu will press for easier funding for tiny island governments to create the physical infrastructure they need to “rescue themselves” during the next global climate change summit in Egypt in November, according to Italeli.

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