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Australia and Tuvalu’s new security deal clarifies ‘veto power’ over defense agreements with other countries


May 9, 2024

Australia struck a new security deal with Tuvalu on Thursday after critics complained that a previous pact created an Australian veto power over any other agreement the tiny South Pacific island nation pursued with a third country, such as China.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Feleti Teo and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong committed to a new memorandum of understanding that addresses the sovereignty concerns of Teo’s government, which was elected in January.

“It’s quite significant, the security guarantee that the treaty provides is something that is quite unique,” Teo said at a joint press conference in his tiny nation with a population of around 11,500 people.


Teo’s predecessor, Kausea Natano, struck a landmark treaty agreement in November last year that offered Tuvaluans a lifeline to escape rising seas and increased storms that threaten their country, a collection of low-lying atolls about halfway between Australia and Hawaii.

Australia would initially resettle up to 280 Tuvaluans a year under the treaty. The deal also committed Australia to help Tuvalu in response to major natural disasters, pandemics and military aggression.

The treaty also gave Australia a veto power over any security or defense-related agreement Tuvalu wants to make with any other country, including China.

Meg Keen, director of the Pacific Island Program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank on international policy, said the new agreement made no substantive changes to the treaty announced last year.

Teo “is re-assured that provisions related to the veto-of-third-party arrangements are not intended to impinge on Tuvalu’s sovereignty, but rather to ensure effective responsiveness/coordination and interoperability in times of crisis response,” Keen said in an email.

“There are provisions, if either party feels this understanding is not being honored, to withdraw,” Keen added.

Australia on Thursday announced an investment of more than $72 million into Tuvalu’s priority projects, including $33 million toward creating Tuvalu’s first undersea telecommunications cable.

The Tuvalu agreement is part of the coordinated efforts of the United States and its allies to curb China’s growing influence in the South Pacific, particularly in the security domain.

Campaign issues at the January election included whether Tuvalu should switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing.

Teo told the AP in March in his first international media interview since taking power that his government would maintain diplomatic ties with self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.


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