Australia and Tuvalu sign new commitment to improve security relations and eliminate veto power News
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Australia and Tuvalu sign new commitment to improve security relations and eliminate veto power

Australia and Tuvalu released a joint statement Thursday announcing new commitments to improve security relations and remove the veto power Australia previously had over the tiny island nation’s security relations with other countries.

The announcement addressed the implementation and interpretation of the Falepili Union, a bilateral treaty which was entered into on November 9, 2023 and expands upon the Australia-Tuvalu Security Partnership Memorandum of Understanding (2017). Tuvalu is a tiny island in the South Pacific with a population of 11,478, and “Falepili” is a Tuvaluan term for neighbors who live in close houses, which “embodies the values underpinning the deeper partnership, including care and mutual respect.”

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy announced in their joint media release that more than $110 million will be invested into the immediate priorities of Tuvalu.

This includes:

50 million (in 2024-25) to support Tuvalu to secure its first underseas telecommunication cables, alongside 25$ for likeminded partners

$19 million in additional support to extend the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP), taking Australia’s total contribution TCAP to $38 million

$10 million to immediatel budget support (over 2023-24 and 2024-25) to ensure delivery of critical services

$15 million for a new National Security Coordination Centre in Tuvalu

Australia committed to expanding the TCAP that was developed by the United Nations Development Programme in 2017.  TCAP is focused on adapting to the challenges from climate change and sea-levels rising which is affecting the islands of Tuvalu. The Australia-Pacific Climate Partnership (APCP) says increased sea level rise due to climate change will increase the impact of tropical cyclones, and will have an adverse effect on Tuvalu.  In 2015, Category 5 tropical cyclone Pam caused a state of emergency in Tuvalu, with damaged homes, contaminated drinking water, and killed livestock.

According to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Australia shares the belief, as set out in the Boe Declaration of 2018, that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.” 

The agreement also confirmed a “security guarantee,” and the Explanatory Memorandum of the Falepili Union Between Tuvalu and Australia has identified that Australia will provide assistance in the face of military aggression, humanitarian disaster or global pandemic. Australia is working with Tuvaluans to develop a special mobility pathway that will allow Tuvaluan citizens to come to Australia, whether permanently or temporarily to diversify their livelihoods and acquire new skills. According to ABCNews, this is an additional “lifeline to escape rising seas and increased storm that threaten their country.”

The previous treaty gave Australia a veto power over any security or defense agreement that Tuvalu sought to enter into with other countries.  This raised critical questions over Tuvalu’s sovereignty, with Australia operating a veto power, and led to the amendment under Article 4(4) of the Falepili Union.

The Explanatory Memorandum of the Falepili Union Between Tuvalu and Australia notes the Falepili Union will not limit Tuvalu’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.

Tuvalu does not need permission from Australia before it starts to talk with other partners.  Unlike some integrated partnership models, Australia does not have unqualified rights of access to Tuvalu’s territory or airspace, nor the right to establish the military areas in Tuvalu.  Article 4(4) does not diminish Tuvalu’s standing in global fora.

Tuvalu will be able to enter into diplomatic relations with other states and countries, including China. In January of this year during the election, Tuvalu was contemplating switching its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, according to ABCNews.