Back in November 2019, it was reported that Chinese companies had made an offer to the small South Pacific island state of Tuvalu to build artificial islands in order to protect against rising sea waters. The offer is believed to been made at Beijing’s direction. Afraid of China rising influence int he region, and possible debt traps that could have resulted in China taking control of the artificial islands, Tuvalu rejected the offer.
China is of course well experienced in large scale island building after its efforts over the past decade on several disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Apparently, the offer to build the artificial islands would have beeb worth $400 million.
The overtures from China came two months after Tuvalu selected a new prime minister, Kausea Natano, whose position on China and Taiwan had not been known. Beijing apparently thought they had an opening, as the previous prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, is firmly pro-Taiwan.
Tuvalu is one of only 15 states that formally recognize Taiwan. The full list: Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Vatican City, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Swaziland. None of these states have formal relations with Beijing.
The offer by China had come amidst a general push to ingratiate itself with several South Pacific states in an effort to peel them away from Taiwan’s camp and into theirs. The push had been succeeding – Kiribati and Solomon Islands switched their diplomatic recognition to China in September. Taiwan attempted to counter Chinese competition in the South Pacific – Solomon Islands politicians alleged in December that both China and Taiwan offered large sums of money to their state.
But Natano’s foreign minister Simon Kofe however verified that the Natano Cabinet still supported Taiwan. Kofe stated, “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.”
In fact, Tuvalu is going so far as to try to set up a group of fellow South Pacific island-states, along with Marshall Islands, Palau, and Nauru, that will together reject further Chinese inroads in favor of continued support for Taiwan and the United States.