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Tuvalu fears that climate change, an existential threat to the Pacific nation, is being forgotten and it worries that fellow island nations could become “pawns” in a global competition between China and the United States, its foreign minister said.

Simon Kofe told Reuters the superpower competition was a concern, distracting attention from climate change, the priority for Pacific islands endangered by rising sea levels.

“It is important that the Pacific handles these issues carefully,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “The last thing we want is that countries in the Pacific are used against each other or used as pawns.”

Kofe grabbed global attention for his nation of 12,000 people last year when he addressed a global climate conference standing ankle deep in the sea to illustrate Tuvalu was “sinking”. Forty percent of the capital district is underwater at high tide, and the tiny country is forecast to be submerged by the end of the century.

Pacific Island leaders will discuss a controversial new security pact between the Solomon Islands and China at a meeting next month, Kofe said. He said he had been briefed on the issue by his Solomon Islands counterpart and that, although Honiara said it was an internal matter, it had regional implications.

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