Kiribati is a full member of The Commonwealth, the IMF and the World Bank, and became a full member of the United Nations in 1999. Kiribati hosted the Thirty-First Pacific Islands Forum in October 2000. Kiribati has Least Developed Country Status and its interests rarely extend beyond the region. Through accession to the Cotonou Agreement, Kiribati is also a member of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group. Kiribati maintains good relations with most countries and has particularly close ties to Pacific neighbours Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Kiribati established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in November 2003. Kiribati briefly suspended its relations with France in 1995 over that country's decision to renew nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
Kiribati is the only developing nation in the Pacific never to have been a member of the Group of 77. Palau (which withdrew from membership in 2004) is the only other Pacific developing nation that is not part of the group.
Kiribati has only three permanent mission abroad, the High Commission in Suva, Fiji, an embassy in Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan), and a permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. It has honorary consulates in London, Auckland, Sydney, Honolulu, Tokyo, and Hamburg. In Kiribati, there are High Commissions from Australia and New Zealand and embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan), and the People's Republic of Cuba.
Kiribati firstly established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1980. At that time, Kiribati had been the home to a satellite tracking base for PRC space program from 1997 until 2003. On 7 November 2003, Kiribati established diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC). Although it did not sever ties with the PRC, expressing the intention to continue relations, Beijing suspended ties on 29 November after failed attempts to lobby President Anote Tong to change his mind.
On 9 January 2004, the ROC opened its embassy in Kiribati. On 31 May 2013, Kiribati opened its embassy in Taipei. This was the first ever Kiribati embassy outside of Oceania. Teekoa Iuta became Kiribati's first ambassador to the country.
In the late 2000s, Kiribati began to strengthen its relations with Cuba. Cuba provides medical aid to Kiribati. There are currently sixteen doctors providing specialised medical care in Kiribati, with sixteen more scheduled to join them. Cuban doctors have reportedly provided a dramatic improvement to the field of medical care in Kiribati, reducing the child mortality rate in that country by 80% As of September 2008, over twenty I-Kiribati medical students are studying in Cuba, at Cuba's expense.
Britain has long-standing historic links with Kiribati. The first British visitor to Kiribati was reputed to be Commodore John Byron in 1765, the immediate predecessor of James Cook's more famous explorations of the Pacific between 1769-1779. With the growth of the British settlement in Australia's New South Wales, whaling became a key element of the regional economy, and up to the 1870s British whalers were regular visitors to the waters surrounding Kiribati. Through its network of sovereign posts in the region (Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia), the UK maintains bilateral programmes with Kiribati sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for Environment and Department for International Development and other government departments. The UK Government's engagement in Kiribati is largely delivered through the Commonwealth, the European Union and The Asian Development Bank.
Following its independence in 1979, Kiribati signed a treaty of friendship with the United States. The United States Department of State characterizes U.S.–Kiribati relations as "excellent", as of 2009[update]. Although the U.S. does not maintain a diplomatic office or consulate in Kiribati, staff from the American embassy in Suva, Fiji make frequent visits to Kiribati. The U.S. provides economic development assistance through multilateral institutions. From 1967 to 2008, the United States Peace Corps operated in Kiribati.
Kiribati receives development aid from the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, USA, the Asian Development Bank, UN agencies and Taiwan. In recent years it has accounted for 20-25% of Kiribati's GDP. Recent projects and notable inputs by the EU have included telecommunications (improvement of telephone exchanges and provision of radio and navigation equipment), the development of seaweed as an export crop, solar energy systems for the outer islands, the upgrading of the Control Tower and fire fighting services at Tarawa's Bonriki International Airport, outer island social development, health services and extensive support for the Kiribati Vocational Training Programme. Additionally, Cuba provides doctors, as well as scholarships for I-Kiribati medical students.
Diplomatic Efforts Relating to Climate Change
As one of the most vulnerable nations on the planet in terms of the effects of climate change, Kiribati has been an active participant in international diplomatic efforts relating to climate change, most importantly the UNFCCC conferences of the parties (COP). Kiribati is a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an intergovernmental organization of low-lying coastal and small Island countries. Established in 1990, the main purpose of the alliance is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to address global warming. AOSIS has been very active from its inception, putting forward the first draft text in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations as early as 1994.
In the summer of 2008, Kiribati officials asked Australia and New Zealand to accept Kiribati citizens as permanent refugees. Kiribati is expected to be the first country in which all land territory disappears due to global climate change. In June 2008, the Kiribati president Anote Tong said that the country has reached "the point of no return"; he added: "To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that."
In 2009 President Tong attending the Climate Vulnerable Forum (V11) in the Maldives, along with 10 other countries that are vulnerable to climate-change, and signed the Bandos Island declaration on 10 November 2009, pledging to show moral leadership and commence greening their economies by voluntarily committing to achieving carbon neutrality. In November 2010, Kiribati will host the Tarawa Climate Change Conference (TCCC), the purpose of which is to support the initiative of the President of Kiribati to hold a consultative forum between vulnerable states and their partners with a view of creating an enabling environment for multi-party negotiations under the auspices of the UNFCCC. The conference is a successor event to the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Based on the lessons learned in the COP process to-date, the TCCC proposes a more inclusive format of consultations, involving key partners among major developed and developing nations. The TCCC will be a major advocacy and partnership building event embedded in the overall context of global and regional (Pacific) consultations on climate change. Furthermore, the TCCC aims to be an integral part of the process of regional and global consultations scheduled to take place in 2010. The ultimate objective of TCCC is to reduce the number and intensity of various fault lines between parties to the COP process, explore elements of agreement between the parties and thereby to support Kiribati's and other parties' contribution to COP16 to be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010.