17 August 2012

Sunday Morning with Chris Laidlaw on Radio NZ on 5 August included an interview with a former Prime Minister and Governor General of Tuvalu. The program was part of the New Flags series.  Sir Tomasi Puapua was the second Prime Minister of Tuvalu – and its third Governor General. Discussion centered on the rejection of British independence arrangements for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony by the Polynesians in the Ellice Islands, who feared the dominance of the much more numerous Melanesians in the Gilberts.

On 1 August 1978, Tuvalu – the eight islands standing together – went its own way.  The new state’s few resources were migratory tuna  It was left little by the departing British.  Puapua spoke of measures explored to acquire revenue; stamps, selling its url  “.tv”  for commercial marketing, and establishing a shipping register.  The only continuing success, a trust fund providing capital support for the government  created by New Zealand, Australia and the UK, was subsequently  supported by South Korea and Japan.

But the sense of desperation to stay afloat fiscally, is metaphorically reflected in the campaign by some to portray the country as drowning in the tides of global warming. The capital at Funafuti is worse off than the other atolls because pits dug in 1942 to provide building material for a runway  (needed for the US attack on Japanese forces occupying Tarawa in the Gilberts) have become brackish and affect horticulture. Desperation has promoted an acceptance of the unconventional and novel.

This year, Singaporean interests that manage the shipping register were off the mark quickly when Iran needed to reflag its tanker fleet to circumvent US sanctions.  Twenty two vessels were registered. The fiscal benefit to Tuvalu is uncertain. 

Tiny Tuvalu (population 10,000) though extremely religious, had no capacity to play David to the US Goliath. Yesterday the 22 ships were deregistered.

In 1986 Tuvalu stood up to US displeasure as an active participant in the drafting committee of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. Though a minnow among a shoal of minnows, it was onside with Australia and New Zealand.  Giving succour to Iran may have been brave for a country with such dependence on the charity of others, but possibly reflects the diplomatic immaturity of being 189th of the 192 States Members of the United Nations.