On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Tuvalu’s counterpart, Kausea Natano, struck a deal to enhance ties between their nations, responding to challenges posed by climate change and the growing influence of China in the region.
Friday’s deal will give Australia the right to vet Tuvalu’s agreements with third countries while also giving “a guarantee that upon a request from Tuvalu for any military assistance based upon security issues, Australia will be there.”
The agreement will also see 280 Tuvalans granted access to a special visa every year. Those who take up the offer will then be able to send remittances back home.
Natano said his country had called for the treaty to “safeguard and support each other as we face the existence of threat of climate change and geostrategic challenges.”
Competing the Pacific’s spheres of influence
The substantial agreement comes as China increases its influence throughout the Pacific region.
Tuvalu is one of only 13 countries that maintain an official diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.
But the treaty between Australia and Tuvalu goes far beyond the recent security pact agreed by China and the Solomon Islands.
Under the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili union, “both countries commit to mutually agree any partnership, arrangement or engagement with any other state or entity on security and defense-related matters in Tuvalu,” effectively making Australia its primary security partner.
Rising sea levels threaten Tuvalu
Tuvalu is one of the lowest-lying island nations in the world, with its nine islands sitting at less than 5 meters above sea level. It is located around 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) north of New Zealand.
Its 11,000-strong permanent population is thus facing the real possibility that their country may disappear as climate change causes sea levels to rise.
The 280-person cap would ensure the migration “does not cause brain drain” for Tuvalu, Prime Minister Natano said.
“We believe the people of Tuvalu deserve the choice to live, study and work elsewhere, as climate change impacts worsen,” Albanese and Natano said in a joint statement.
“Australia has committed to provide a special pathway for citizens of Tuvalu to come to Australia, with access to Australian services that will enable human mobility with dignity,” the statement said.
Tuvalu will also receive funds to reclaim land around its capital, Funafuti, by around 6%.