Tuvalu Reaffirms Taiwan Relations as China Works to Increase Influence in Pacific

Tuvalu Reaffirms Taiwan Relations as China Works to Increase Influence in Pacific

Tuvalu’s new government released a statement of priorities Wednesday, reiterating the Pacific island nation’s intent to maintain its “long-term and lasting special relationship” with Taiwan, while vowing to review a security pact that the previous administration signed with Australia in November.

The announcement comes after some lawmakers hinted before last month’s parliamentary election that the new Tuvalu government might review the country’s ties with Taiwan. That kicked off weeks of speculation that the Pacific island nation might switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

The new government “intends to reassess options that would strengthen and lift [its relationship with Taiwan] to a more durable, lasting and mutually beneficial relationship,” the new government under Prime Minister Feleti Teo said in the statement shared by Transport, Energy, Communication and Innovation Minister Simon Kofe on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Some analysts told VOA that Wednesday’s statement can be viewed as Tuvalu’s effort to push back against Beijing’s influence campaign.

“This is a strong sign of Tuvalu’s intent to thwart what I must assume are strong offers from Beijing,” Timothy Rich, a professor of political science at Western Kentucky University, said in a written response.

Other observers say the announcement, which is a welcome message to the United States and its democratic allies, can shore up Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic footprint in the Pacific region while serving as a temporary setback for China.

“I see this development as a setback for Beijing as they were hoping to lure Tuvalu into their camp but China [still] has other mechanisms through which they can increase their influence [in the Pacific region,]” Parker Novak, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub told VOA by phone.

Since Tuvalu’s new government highlights climate change and connectivity as important areas for development, some experts say Taiwan needs to consider how it can constructively contribute to Tuvalu’s priorities.

“As China looks to woo countries that have ties with Taiwan onto its side, the Tuvalu government needs to demonstrate to the Tuvalu community that its relationship with Taiwan is delivering something for the people while it passes the potential benefits of a relationship with China,” Mihai Sora, a research fellow in the Pacific Islands program at Lowy Institute in Australia, in a phone interview.

He said Taiwan needs to consider how it can elevate its relationship with Tuvalu.

“The ball is in Taiwan’s court to elevate the relationship with Tuvalu [as] the language [in the statement] indicates that Tuvalu is interested in upgrading its relationship with Taiwan and getting more out of it,” Sora added.

In response to the new Tuvalu government’s commitment to maintaining diplomatic ties, Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Wednesday that it treasures the “special relationship” with Tuvalu and hopes to continue to work together with the Pacific island nation.

While Taiwan and Tuvalu reaffirmed their bilateral relationship, Beijing emphasized that “upholding the One China principle,” which designates Taiwan as a part of China, is “where global opinion trends.”

“A handful of countries who still have so-called ‘diplomatic ties’ with the Taiwan region should choose to stand on the right side of history and make the right decision that truly serves their fundamental and long-term interests,” Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said during a regular press conference on Monday.

Three Pacific island nations have switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China since 2019. Beijing has also increased efforts to deepen relations with regional countries, signing security deals with countries such as the Solomon Islands while promising a large amount of aid.

To counter Beijing’s influence campaign, the United States and its allies have stepped up engagement with Pacific island nations, signing new agreements to deepen cooperation and increase support for regional countries. However, some of the efforts have been met with caution or stalled by domestic politics.

In the Wednesday statement of priorities, the new Tuvalu government said while it supports the broad principles and objectives of the security and migration pact that the previous administration signed with Australia in November, it acknowledges “the absence of transparency and consultations” in informing the general public about the deal. The government vowed to address the “process issues.”

While analysts say the deal between Tuvalu and Australia will not be completely scrapped, the U.S. Congress has been unable to pass new funding packages for several Pacific island nations, forcing leaders from several countries to warn about Beijing’s attempt to seize the opportunity to shift their allegiances.

ora in Australia said the U.S. congressional failure to pass the aid package, the Compacts of Free Association, or COFA, agreement, hurts U.S. credibility as a reliable partner to Pacific island nations.

“COFA is a core Pacific interest for the U.S. and if it can’t make that, how could it credibly expand its engagement and presence in the rest of the Pacific?” according to Sora.

Rich from Western Kentucky University said failure by the U.S. and its allies to provide economic support to Pacific island nations, who rely heavily on foreign aid for their development, could give China an opportunity to present itself as an alternative.

“My concern is that without aid, the Pacific islands have no choice but China, and China could use these relations [to increase its presence in the region,]” he said.


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