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Australia gets a remarkable set of rights from the Pacific island country of Tuvalu in exchange for things it can mostly find a reason to not do if it wants.

Australia and the Pacific island country of Tuvalu have entered into an agreement that seems to give Australia extensive and exclusive defence and security rights in Tuvalu. This includes the possibility of invoking “security” in ways that could give Australian companies competitive advantage, and could even result in Australia vetoing activity by the U.S. military. The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union treaty reads in part: “Tuvalu shall mutually agree with Australia any partnership, arrangement or engagement with any other State or entity on security and defence-related matters. Such matters include but are not limited to defence, policing, border protection, cyber security and critical infrastructure, including ports, telecommunications and energy infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, 280 Tuvaluans, out of a population of around 12,000, get to migrate to Australia each year (Tuvalu is a low-lying island nation with serious concerns about the effects of sea level rise and the agreement is often being framed in the media as a benevolent Australia helping out with climate change).

But the relocation comes with a catch. “To support the implementation of the pathway, Tuvalu shall ensure that its immigration, passport, citizenship and border controls are robust and meet international standards for integrity and security and are compatible with and ACCESSIBLE TO Australia.” (Emphasis added.)

Additionally, Australia says, if asked, it shall, “in accordance with its international law obligations, international commitments, domestic processes and capacity” (note all the potential reasons not to do so), assist Tuvalu with natural disasters, a public health emergency of international concern and military aggression against Tuvalu.

To do that “The Parties shall enter into an instrument to set out the conditions and timeframes applicable to Australian personnel operating in Tuvalu’s territory.” And “In addition to the Parties’ rights and freedoms under international law, provided that advance notice is given by Australia, Tuvalu shall provide Australia rights to access, presence within, and overflight of Tuvalu’s territory, if the activities are necessary for the provision of assistance requested by Tuvalu under this agreement.”

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