In a world of evolving diplomacy, the United States needs to focus on a new horizon. Tuvalu, the fourth smallest and least visited country in the world, may not be on everyone’s radar, but it holds great potential.
The United States appointed its first ambassador to Tuvalu in 1980, but the ambassador has been residing in Suva, Fiji, since then. The U.S. ambassador to Tuvalu also serves as the ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, and Tonga. While the United States has opened embassies in other Pacific countries, it has overlooked Tuvalu. It is crucial for the U.S. to establish an official mission there.
Tuvalu has a population of about 11,000 and is made up of nine atolls with Tuvaluan and English as its official languages. As a former British colony, it gained full independence in 1978 and has since been a parliamentary democracy. It operates with a unicameral parliament consisting of 16 members without political parties.
In the current international system, there is significant competition between the United States and China in the Pacific. Tuvalu has strengthened ties with Taiwan in opposition to China. It is one of the 14 United Nations members recognizing the government of Taiwan. This opposition was also evident when Tuvalu turned down a $400 million offer from Chinese companies, suspecting the involvement of the Chinese government. This rejection demonstrates Tuvalu’s commitment to resisting Chinese influence.
To counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific, the United States has made efforts from a regional standpoint, including hosting the first annual U.S. Pacific Summit followed by a second one. Additional measures include the appointment of a U.S. envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum and a $1.5 million grant to the Pacific Community. However, there has been a lack of similar efforts at the national level in Tuvalu.
Tuvalu is the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change, experiencing extreme weather events and rising sea levels. With a population suffering from obesity due to lack of agriculture and unhealthy imported food, the effects of climate change are devastating. Despite the influx of climate finance, it is difficult to understand how to best assist without an on-ground presence.
It is crucial for the United States to establish an official mission in Tuvalu to capitalize on its opposition to China and to better understand the impacts of climate change in the region. Despite the potential financial costs and doubts about the benefits, prioritizing diplomatic relations with Tuvalu is essential for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to the region and deter China’s influence.