Tuvalu Foreign Minister cancels conference trip due to China protest

Tuvalu’s foreign minister landed in Brisbane on Monday after withdrawing from an international forum in protest against alleged Chinese coercion.

Simon Kofe was due to arrive in Portugal for the UN’s Ocean Conference which is focusing on sustainable use of marine resources, a key issue for Pacific island nations concerned about climate change impacts and overfishing.

The foreign minister’s protest came after China, which is on the credentials committee, demanded three of Tuvalu’s Taiwanese delegates be removed and threatened to push to revoke the entire delegation’s credentials if the trio were not removed.

Kofe decided to remove himself and the three delegates, but still wants Tuvalu to participate in the conference.

He will now head to Fiji early for the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in mid-July.

The incident is bound to inflame tensions at the upcoming forum, which follows China’s efforts for a regional security agreement in the Pacific.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured eight countries in the region before shelving the deal after Pacific island nations called for regional consensus.

Tuvalu and Nauru, both PIF members, still recognise Taiwan.

In-person partner meetings which usually occur alongside the forum have been postponed. Partner nations include China, the U.S, UK and European Union as well as India, Japan and Canada.

Australia and New Zealand are members of the forum, with both countries and Western allies previously raising concerns about the regional security deal pushed by Beijing.

Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa previously suggested China tried to rush through the agreement, saying any regional issues should be put before the PIF for consultation.