Asia

Tuvalu: Pacific nation turns down Chinese islands and backs Taiwan

An aerial image of Funafuti, Tuvalu, on 15 August 2018 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tuvalu is battling rising sea levels

The tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu has rejected offers from Chinese firms to build artificial islands that would help it deal with rising sea levels, its foreign minister says.

Simon Kofe told Reuters he saw the offers as an attempt to reduce Taiwan's influence in the region.

But he instead reaffirmed his country's support for Taiwan.

China has increased efforts to expand its influence in the Pacific, alarming the United States and its allies.

Only 15 countries recognise Taiwan as a sovereign nation and have full diplomatic relations. A number of countries have switched their allegiance from Taiwan to China in recent years.

China refuses to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognises Taiwan.

In recent months Taiwan lost two allies in the region, when Kiribati and the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition to China. Beijing has been accused of luring them in with the promise of financial aid and airplanes.

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Media captionTuvalu's foreign minister discusses increasing pressure from China

Mr Kofe expressed his backing for Taiwan and said his nation was setting up a group to unite Taiwan's four remaining Pacific allies - the Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru and Tuvalu.

"We believe in the power of grouping together and collaborating," he told Reuters news agency.

"Together with our partners, we will be able to counter the influence from mainland China."

Mr Kofe said Chinese companies had approached local communities offering to help with a $400m (£310m) government plan to build artificial islands. He believes the companies were backed by the Chinese government.

"We are hearing a lot of information about debt," he said. "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."

Beijing has proposed Taiwan operate under a "one country, two systems" structure, similar to Hong Kong.

Since Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, seven countries have dropped Taiwan as a diplomatic ally. The support from Tuvalu could help her as she seeks re-election in January.

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