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Tuvalu made rapid strides in the year 2000 in its attempts to play a significant role in the international affairs. Tuvalu applied for a full membership to the United Nations in January 2000, following the examples of its South Pacific neighbors of Kiribati, Nauru and Tonga. In a vote in March, the United Nations Security Council approved the Tuvaluan application for membership. It recommended to the General Assembly to accept Tuvalu's application to become the 189th member of the world body. [1]


Regional Relations

Tuvalu is a full member of the South Pacific Forum and the South Pacific Commission. Tuvalu maintains direct relations with Kiribati, but relations with other states are through representatives in New Zealand and Fiji. (Tuvalu House in London, England, fulfills a mainly consular role.) Tuvalu endorsed the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty in 1985. [2]

Important Bilateral Issues

Tuvalu maintains honorary consulates in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. The country's only full embassies are its permanent mission to the United Nations in New York, and its High Commission in Fiji.[1] Nonetheless, Tuvalu's foreign policy emphasises a number of important bilateral issues:


Membership of the United Nations and the Commonwealth

See also: Tuvalu and the United Nations

In the United Nations process noted above, of the 15 members of the Security Council, 14 voted in favor of the resolution; China abstained, largely to express its unhappiness over Tuvalu's ties with Taiwan, which China claims as integral part of its territory. Speaking before the vote, the representative of China stressed that a Member State of the United Nations should truly implement the obligations of the United Nations Charter and seriously abide by the resolutions of the General Assembly, in particular its resolution 2758.

Flowing from that primary obligation, he could not support the recommendation for acceptance of Tuvalu's membership. At the same time, given China's long-term shared interests with the people of Tuvalu and the strong wish of the Pacific States to admit that country, his delegation would not block the recommendation. Hopefully, he added, after joining the United Nations, Tuvalu could strictly abide by the United Nations Charter and implement the relevant General Assembly resolution. By resolution 2758 adopted in October 1971, the Assembly decided, in part, to "restore all its rights to the People's Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations." (See: Sino-Pacific relations)

In another significant breakthrough, on 1 September 2000, Tuvalu became a full member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Since its independence in 1978, Tuvalu had been a special member of the Commonwealth, but without having any voting rights in the organization that brings together 54 countries which were former colonies of Britain. Tuvalu's admission as a full member was approved by the members of the Commonwealth unanimously earlier in the year.

Relations with the United Kingdom

However, Tuvalu's relations with Britain have been far from smooth right from the days of independence of the tiny Pacific Atoll nation in 1978. Tuvalu's problems with Britain go back to the colonial era when it was part of the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony. The Gilbertese were Micronesian and are in Kiribati, while the Tuvaluans were largely Polynesian. In 1975, the Tuvaluans demanded separation from Gilbert Islands and also sought independence from the British rulers. Tuvaluan leadership believes that the British handling of Tuvalu's concerns about its identity and independence was less than fair. Ionatana believed that during the 1970s when Tuvalu first raised its voice for independence, Tuvalu was given a rough treatment by the British, who favored neighboring Kiribati, since that country did not seek independence.

Ionatana, like other leaders of Tuvalu, believed Britain has subsequently been 'punishing' Tuvalu for going its own way and believes it is still cutting Tuvalu off from any help. A previous prime minister, Kumuta Latasi, had struck the British Union Jack off its flag. "In spite of the fact we still have the Westminster system of government and retain the queen as our queen, nobody cares about us," Latasi had said at the time. "There is no point in having the Union Jack on our flag; nobody cares," Ionatana said. As a result of a motion in the 12-member parliament, a constitutional review was under way. This was the first step taken by Tuvalu to become a republic.

Currently, Queen Elizabeth II, the British Queen, is the head of the state. However, Tuvalu's late prime minister Ionatana Ionatana openly called for the formation of a republic and choosing a president as the head of the state, replacing the British Monarch. A constitutional review committee was seeking the views of 11,000 people of Tuvalu and Ionatana said he believed people wanted to dispense with Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. "Personally I think Tuvalu should go into a republic," he said. Though Ionatana's death may have for the moment put the Republicans on a slow mode, the Republican movement is not expected to lose steam due to his death.

Tuvalu's parliament has also passed a resolution calling on the government to take Britain to the International Court of Justice over the issue of pre-independence maltreatment and the British role during World War II of the construction of a U.S. military airstrip on the main atoll of Funafuti. The runway and its associated pits continue to have a severe environmental effect on the island. [3]

Relations with Cuba

In the late 2000s, Tuvalu began to strengthen its relations with Cuba. Cuba provides medical aid to Tuvalu.[2]

In September 2008, Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia attended the first Cuba-Pacific Islands ministerial meeting in Havana. He was, along with I-Kiribati President Anote Tong, one of the first two Pacific leaders to visit Cuba. The meeting aimed at "strengthening cooperation" between Cuba and Pacific Island countries, notably in coping with the effects of climate change - an issue of critical importance to Tuvalu.[3]

Other Important Foreign Relations Issues

In 2002, the major international issues facing many Pacific island states involved environmental challenges—a consequence of global warming, according to several scientific studies. In this regard, Tuvalu, like other islands in the Pacific, will launch legal action against developed countries at international venues, such as the International Court of Justice, for polluting practices which make them most liable for global warming. Most Pacific island countries may be washed away in the future, as a consequence of global warming and the resulting rise in sea level. Meanwhile, at present, they suffer from biodiversity depeletion and a lack of freshwater sources. These serious challenges are also linked to global warming. The refusal of the United States and Australia to sign the Kyoto Protocol raises the level of alarm in the Pacific region. [4]

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