Nov 10 (Reuters) – Australia and Pacific Island state Tuvalu on Friday signed a security and climate change treaty designed to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific and address the low-lying island nation’s concerns about rising seas induced by climate change.
Here’s what you need to know about Tuvalu and its role in the Pacific.
TINY ISLAND STATE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, Tuvalu is spread across nine atolls and just 26 square kms (10 square miles) of land.
Roughly half its 11,200 people live on the capital atoll Funafuti. Stretched around a lagoon, the largest islet is only 650 metres (710 yards) at its widest. During exceptionally high tides, roughly 40% of the main island is inundated with sea water.
By 2050, it is estimated that half the land area of the capital, Funafuti, will be flooded by tidal waters daily.
Tuvalu’s economy is almost entirely reliant on revenues
from fishing licensing and fees relating to internet domain licensing.
The “Falepili union” signed with Australia on Friday provides A$16.9 million to reclaim land from the sea and expand Funafuti by around 6%. This will provide space for new houses.
‘Falepili’ is a Tuvaluan word for the traditional values of good neighbourliness, care and mutual respect.
The treaty commits Australia to provide assistance to Tuvalu in response to a major natural disaster, health pandemics and military aggression.
AT RISK FROM RISING SEAS
Tuvalu, which won independence from Great Britain in 1978, is a member of the Alliance of Small Island States, 42 countries that are among the most vulnerable to flooding from rising seas.
Just 4.5m (15ft) above sea level at its highest point, parts of the country are at risk of disappearing beneath the Pacific.
Its precarious position has propelled it centre stage in climate change politics. In 2021 then Foreign Minister Simon Kofe addressed the UN’s COP26 climate conference standing knee-deep in seawater on a part of the island previously above water.
REFUGE IN THE METAVERSE
Tuvalu said in 2021 it was exploring ways to maintain its economic maritime zone and recognition as a state if rising seas claimed the country. A year later it floated the idea of preserving a digital version of itself in the metaverse.
In response to worsening climate change, Australia will allow up to 280 Tuvaluans to migrate annually as part of a special visa programme in the “Falepili union” announced on Friday.
A FRIEND OF TAIWAN
Tuvalu is one of just 13 nations to maintain an official diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, a position that puts it at odds with China at a time when Australia and the U.S. are vying with Beijing for influence in the region.
Prime Minister Kausea Natano visited Taiwan last year and pledged to “stand firm” and maintain the relationship. In 2019 Tuvalu rejected offers from Chinese companies to build artificial islands to cope with rising sea levels.
The “Falepili union” signed with Australia on Friday requires both parties to agree before Tuvalu cooperates with a third party on security.
Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Michael Perry
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