TechInPacific – If you look at the map, you will find it difficult to find Tuvalu. It is one of the smallest and least visited nations on Earth. However, a total of 600 Pacific officials attended this year at the Annual Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), which focused on climate change as its main theme. The summit was held in the capital of Tuvalu, Funafuti, a Pacific atoll that is not even half the size of Melbourne’s business centre, with a population of 6,000. Eighteen countries participated, including New Zealand, as well as delegations from China and the United States.
Unlike most of the Pacific, Tuvalu, which is halfway between Australia and Hawaii, is tiny and unheard of by many people. To give you an overview of the host country of the 2019 IFP, here are some interesting facts about Tuvalu.
Concise biography of the nation
Tuvalu was formerly known as the Ellice Islands, a group of nine islands in the South Pacific, about 4,000 km northeast of Sydney. Tuvaluan is the mother tongue of the people of Tuvalu, but they have no problem speaking English as they have in the past.
It is the fourth smallest country in the world, surpassing only its neighbour Nauru, Monaco and the Vatican. The combined land area covers 26 square kilometres, and its highest point above sea level is about 4.5 metres.
The main island, Funafuti, has an airport with only three commercial flights visiting the country each week. The postcard of the atoll can represent a heavenly landscape, but the most recent data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization indicate that only 2,000 international tourists stopped in Tuvalu in 2017.
In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Tuvalu ranks among the world’s least developed sovereign countries. In 2018, local GDP was only US$42.6 million, and this figure is unlikely to increase as the country is limited by limited means to generate income. It is interesting to note that in the mid-1990s, Tuvalu derived considerable revenue from sex-related telephone lines with its international access code. In the late 1990s, Tuvalu also sold its Internet.tv suffix for US$50 million to a Canadian company called DotTV, which obtained the exclusive right to sell the suffix to broadcasting companies such as Twitch.tv and Pedestrian.tv for 12 years. Other sources of income in the country include the sale of fishing licences and postage stamps.
Continuous pressure from Beijing
Tuvalu has had a diplomatic relationship with Taiwan for 40 years, but their relations could be challenged as China seeks to strengthen its ties with countries around the world, particularly in the Pacific.
The world has repeatedly witnessed Beijing’s pressure on any country that forms an alliance with Taiwan. For example, Chinese tourists were not allowed to visit Palau last year, causing great suffering to Palau tourism. Even Solomon Islands, the largest of the six Pacific nations currently standing alongside Taiwan, is reconsidering its position. It was noted that an exchange may take place soon.
On the other hand, Tuvalu was much smaller and therefore “can be influenced by personality politics and the political elite,” according to Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute. “I wouldn’t be surprised if China tried to work behind the scenes to try to make an exchange, but much of this calculation becomes financial in terms of benefits for the country itself,” he continued.