Essay by Eric Worrall
Climate crisis? Or an incentive not to sign a naval resupply agreement with China?
Anthony Albanese offers Tuvalu residents the right to resettle in Australia, as climate change ‘threatens its existence’
Posted 19h ago19 hours ago, updated 16h ago
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced a new pact with the low-lying island country of Tuvalu, allowing residents facing displacement from climate change the ability to resettle in Australia.
- The deal is the first time Australia has offered residence or citizenship rights due to the threat posed by climate change
- The US and New Zealand have similar agreements with other Pacific countries
- Mr Albanese described it as the most significant agreement between Australia and a Pacific island nation ever
In a move which could transform Australia’s relationships with other small Pacific nations and the region as a whole, Mr Albanese announced the agreement at the Pacific Islands Forum in Cook Islands, flanked by Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kausea Natano.
The agreement will see 280 people per year given a “special mobility pathway” to “live, work and study” in Australia. Tuvalu has a permanent population of about 11,000 people.
In return, Australia will have effective veto power over Tuvalu’s security arrangements with any other country.
China’s chequebook diplomacy in the South Pacific has really rattled Australia in recent years, after China inked a deal to build a military base in the Solomon Islands, not far from Australia.
China has also been building other military grade deep water concrete dock facilities in defensible locations near the Australian coast, like the deepwater dock in Port Luganville in Vanuatu.
Most of the other islands in the area either have high quality concrete dock facilities, are in negotiations to build a high quality marina, and / or owe lots of money to China.
If I was less trusting I might be tempted to believe China is strenuously attempting to create a barricade of defensible, ready made deepwater harbour locations in a chain of Pacific islands forming a wide arc around Australia’s North East coast, which could be used to blockade US attempts to reach Australia via the Pacific Ocean, in the event of a major war or invasion. But obviously these are all projects for peace.
I doubt the “climate refugee” deal with Tuvalu will significantly improve Australia’s national security, if this is the goal. Pacific island politicians are experts at playing great powers off against each other, and extracting cash out of powerful neighbours which want to be their friends, they’ve had centuries of practice.
China and Australia have made their fair share of blunders in the region. Deep rooted expectations in both Chinese and Australian culture, about the paramount sanctity of signed agreements, has sometimes led to confusion and cultural misunderstandings when it encounters the more nuanced South Pacific way of doing business.