Taiwan envoy says Tuvalu ties ‘rock solid’ post-election

Aerial view of Tuvalu

Lawmakers in Tuvalu have selected Feleti Teo as the Pacific island nation’s new prime minister, weeks after an election that put ties with Taiwan in focus. 

Former Attorney General Teo secured the support of lawmakers who were elected last month, government secretary Tufoua Panapa told Agence France-Presse on Monday. 

There has been speculation that Tuvalu, one of just 12 states that still formally recognise Taiwan, could consider establishing relations with Beijing. 

After Monday’s announcement, Andrew Lin, Taiwan’s Ambassador to Tuvalu, told AFP he had won assurances from the new prime minister that the countries’ ties were “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,” Lin said, adding that he was “very good friends” with Teo. 

“Before the election, a lot of rumours spread, a kind of disinformation” Taiwan’s ambassador said. 

“Maybe China was behind the scenes saying that after the election Tuvalu will follow suit with Nauru for a switch.” 

Neighbouring Nauru recently severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, feeding rumours Tuvalu could follow. 

Lin described his relationship with Teo as being “very good friends and close to each other.” 

Teo’s elevation to prime minister comes after his predecessor, Kausea Natano, who had backed longstanding relations with Taipei, lost his seat in general elections. 

Nauru recently severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, feeding rumours Tuvalu could follow. 

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

Ahead of the election, Natano’s finance minister, Seve Paeniu, floated the idea of Tuvalu reviewing its Taiwan ties. 

Teo becomes prime minister four weeks after general elections. He is the first Tuvaluan prime minister to be nominated unopposed, according to lawmaker Simon Kofe. Teo will be inaugurated with his cabinet ministers later this week, Kofe said in a social media post. 

The election had been delayed by persistent bad weather that left several MPs stranded on the nation’s outer islands and unable to reach the capital. 

Jess Marinaccio, an assistant professor in Pacific Studies at California State University, told AFP it was too early to say whether Teo, who had held a senior regional fisheries role until recently, would maintain ties with Taiwan. 

“I don’t think anybody knows, because he hasn’t been in government for a long time,” Marinaccio said. 

“Attorney general was the last position he had before he started working internationally. 

“The positions he has worked in were ones where he had to deal with countries which did and didn’t have relations with Taiwan, so he has probably had to be fairly even about that. 

“He couldn’t express an opinion either way, so we don’t have an idea whether he leans one way or the other.” 

Marinaccio said international relations would be high on the list of issues for Teo’s new government. 

“It will definitely be something they talk about. They also have to choose high commissioners and ambassadors, so Taiwan will be in there,” she said. 

“It will be a high priority, along with climate change and telecommunications, because the coverage in Tuvalu is not fantastic,” she said.