Tuvalu Rejects Chinese Offer to Build Artificial Islands, Declares Support for Taiwan

A small island off the north end on the mainland on August 15, 2018 in Funafuti, Tuvalu. All 8 islands in the group are inhabited. The small South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is striving to mitigate the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels of 5mm per year since …
Fiona Goodall/Getty Images for Lumix

The South Pacific nation of Tuvalu on Thursday rejected a $400 million plan to build artificial islands in the area proposed by companies linked to the Chinese government.

Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe expressed Tuvalu’s continuing support for Taiwan, which Beijing has been attempting to isolate, and said his nation would work with its regional partners to “counter the influence from mainland China.”

“Tuvalu and Taiwan diplomatic ties are the strongest they’ve ever been,” Kofe said from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on Thursday.

Tuvalu, Palau, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands are Taiwan’s remaining South Pacific allies after Beijing’s determined campaign of isolation managed to lure away Kiribati and the Solomon Islands over the past two months.

The Chinese approached Tuvalu with a plan to build artificial islands to help the tiny nation (total population about 12,000) cope with rising sea levels. 

“It’s a no from us,” Kofe said of Tuvalu’s response to the Chinese offer. “We are hearing a lot of information about debt, China buying our islands and looking at setting up military bases in our part of the world. Those are things that are concerning to us.”

“We hope those are lessons for other countries to be careful and be conscious of the negative impacts,” he added. “It’s not good for our Pacific fellow brothers and sisters.”

Kofe was in Taipei to visit with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who congratulated Kofe’s government on their recent democratic elections, thanked them for supporting Taiwan, and discussed common interests between the two countries. 

There had been some apprehension that the new Tuvalu government under Prime Minister Kausea Natano might switch allegiance to China after the September elections. Natano won a surprising parliamentary victory over the pro-Taiwanese incumbent prime minister, Enele Sopoaga.

Taiwan announced last week that it will build a new digital center in Tuvalu and help improve its Internet infrastructure. Tuvalu derives a great deal of its national revenue from selling two things: fishing licenses and Internet domains, which are in great demand among media companies worldwide because the country code for all domains sold by Tuvalu is “.tv.”

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