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Tuvalu names new PM, Taiwan says ties ‘everlasting’

Tuvalu, with a population of just 11,000 is one of just 12 states that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing
Tuvalu, with a population of just 11,000 is one of just 12 states that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing - Copyright AFP TORSTEN BLACKWOOD
Tuvalu, with a population of just 11,000 is one of just 12 states that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing - Copyright AFP TORSTEN BLACKWOOD

Taiwan said it received assurances from Tuvalu’s new prime minister Monday that ties were “everlasting”, scotching rumours that the Pacific island nation was poised to flip alliances to Beijing.

Former attorney general Feleti Teo was named premier in a ceremony on Monday, a month after an election that put the Pacific Island nation’s recognition of Taiwan in question.

Tuvalu, with a population of just 11,000 is one of just 12 states that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing.

During the election campaign, member of parliament and then-finance minister Seve Paeniu floated the idea that Tuvalu’s new government should review its Taiwan ties.

That set off frenzied speculation about a looming shift in policy, causing the election to be closely watched from the United States to China.

Andrew Lin, Taiwan’s ambassador to Tuvalu, tried to end that speculation.

Lin told AFP that he had spoken to Teo and government MPs on Monday and received assurances “that the relationship between Taiwan and Tuvalu is firm, rock solid, durable and everlasting.”

“I was invited to attend a lunch with all the MPs and the newly elected PM. I had conversations with all of them and had assurances from all of them,” he said.

Teo, a former attorney general, was most recently the head of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

He is the first Tuvaluan prime minister to be nominated unopposed and will be inaugurated later this week, according to lawmaker Simon Kofe.

– ‘Very good friends’ –

China has dramatically ramped up its efforts to gain influence across the Pacific Islands in recent years, lavishing small nation states with loans, investment, security aid and other enticements.

Beijing has already poached some of Taiwan’s Pacific allies, convincing Solomon Islands and Kiribati to switch recognition in 2019.

Neighbouring Nauru severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in January this year.

Against that backdrop, Tuvalu’s election garnered more attention than usual, with the process of choosing a new leader more drawn out than expected.

After the election, the islands’ 16 lawmakers were due to gather in Funafuti within days to agree on a new government and a new leader.

But high winds and heavy seas left several MPs stranded on outlying islands and unable to reach the capital for almost a month.

International relations are expected to be high on the list of issues for Teo’s new government, along with the problems of climate change and rising sea levels.

Two of Tuvalu’s nine coral islands have already largely disappeared under the waves, and climate scientists fear the entire archipelago will be uninhabitable within the next 80 years.

Taiwan ambassador Lin said he and Teo had an excellent relationship.

“I spoke to him at the ceremony, I speak to him all the time. Tuvalu is very small, we are very good friends and close to each other.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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