Small Fijian village deals with climate crisis as regional leaders talk at Pacific Islands Forum

United States Vice President Kamala Harris has addressed Pacific leaders in what’s seen as a masterstroke from the US in the geostrategic competition with China.

But the chief of a small Fijian village where at least 20 families have had to relocate due to sea level rise is asking: where's the real action on climate change from any of the big nations?

A short drive from Suva is the village of Veivatuloa. When activists call climate change a human rights issue, this is what they mean. The creeping ocean has forced more than 20 families out of their homes and the remains of a sea wall built by villagers is a symbol of their helplessness.

"You can look around, there's a lot of landslide taken by sea and the seawall has been cracked down by the power of the waves," said village leader Suwani Rauto.

It couldn't be further from where Pacific leaders are meeting to discuss the region’s future

Rauto told Newshub there's no future here.

"The water level is much higher than before."

Just down the road, the jostling for influence in the Pacific ramped up on Wednesday. 

The US was muscling into the Pacific Islands Forum in an unprecedented move for a non-member, invited by Chair Frank Bainimarama. It's understood leaders were taken by surprise.

In the back row, some eyes and ears from the Chinese Embassy, who weren't invited.

In April China inked a security pact with the Solomon Islands and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi toured the Pacific seeking to sign up other nations. Now the US is striking back. 

"We recognise in recent years the Pacific Islands may not have received the diplomatic attention and support that you deserve," Harris said. "Today I am here to tell you directly we are going to change that."

She rolled out a counter offer to Beijing's.

"We will embark on a new chapter in our partnership, a chapter with increased American presence."

That includes opening new embassies in Tonga and Kiribati, and a better deal for Pacific nations in exchange for Americans fishing in their waters.

"We plan to triple US funding for economic development and ocean resilience for the Pacific Islands. 

Harris said that funding will contribute to climate resilience, but it's not guaranteed as it requires approval from Congress each year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was firm it's the "number one issue for this region and I think no one is under any illusion, that's where the focus is".

But Pacific people don't feel the focus is there.

"They didn't consult the villagers," said Rauto.

The Pacific bidding war between China and US is on, but for those dealing with the impact of the climate crisis now, it feels like talk talk talk and no action.