Tuvalu's Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said on Thursday that his country has rejected Chinese offer to build artificial islands to help the island nation cope with rising sea level. The offer was seen as an enticement in order to undermine Taiwan's influence in the Pacific island nation. The foreign minister, instead reaffirmed his country's support to Taiwan, which China considers as its own territory, thus ineligible to establish state-to-state relations of its own.
Tuvalu, a small Pacific island nation with less than 12,000 inhabitants was approached by Chinese companies for a $400 million worth artificial islands project. Tuvalu's government believed that the companies were backed by the Chinese government, Kofe told Reuters on Thursday.
He further said, "It's a no from us". 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". He further went on to say, "We hope those are lessons for other countries to be careful and be conscious of those negative impact...It's not good for our Pacific fellow brothers and sisters."
China undermining Taiwan's influence in the region
Tuvalu is one of the four Pacific nations and 15 in the world, that recognizes Taiwan. These nations mainly consist of small and less developed Central American and Pacific island countries. The artificial island project was seen as a series of measures Beijing has taken to entice these nations to switch their diplomatic allegiance to mainland China.
In the month of September, Taiwan lost two of its Pacific allies- Solomon islands and Kiribati as they broke their diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Taiwan claimed that Kiribati was lured by Beijing with the promise of airplanes, while the Solomons was offered development funds. Since 2016, when President Tsai Ing-wen took charge, Taiwan has lost 7 diplomatic allies. She is seeking re-election in Presidential elections slated for January, next year.
Tuvalu reaffirms support to Taiwan
Foreign Minister Simon Kofe said, "Tuvalu and Taiwan diplomatic ties are strongest they've ever been". He said that along with its partners: Marshall Islands, Nauru and Pulau, they "will be able to counter the influence from mainland China".
China has been making inroads in the Pacific island nations, that has set alarm bells ringing in countries such as USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, which have traditionally been influential in the region.