Tuvalu, a Taiwan ally, elects new prime minister

Tuvalu, northeast of Fiji, is one of only 12 nations that recognize Taiwan instead of Beijing.
By Stephen Wright for BenarNews
2024.02.26
Sydney
Tuvalu, a Taiwan ally, elects new prime minister This undated photo published by Tuvalu TV on Facebook on Feb. 26, 2024 shows Feleti Teo, Tuvalu’s new prime minister.
Handout/Tuvalu TV

UPDATED at 6:38 P.M. ET on 02-26-2024

Tuvalu has chosen a seasoned Pacific leader as prime minister as it navigates challenges such as its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, a contentious security treaty with Australia and funding for an ambitious land reclamation project.

Feleti Teo was the only candidate nominated for prime minister, allowing the Pacific island country’s governor-general to declare him elected, Tuvalu’s state TV said Monday, citing government secretary Tufoua Panapa.

It said the government and opposition ranks in the 16-member Parliament won’t be clear until later this week when an oath taking ceremony takes place. Tuvalu held its election in late January, but it has taken a month for all members of Parliament to gather from across the far-flung archipelago in the capital atoll Funafuti.

Teo, over the past two decades, has had leading roles in key regional organizations such as the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the Pacific Islands Development Forum, the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat. He is a former attorney general of Tuvalu.

Teo’s election bodes well for the new government, according to Meg Keen, director of the Pacific Island Program at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

He will be an astute navigator, she said, of relations with countries that have interests in the region. 

“He is well respected both in Tuvalu and the region. He brings to the office a deep understanding of the geopolitics of the region and the critical climate and resource issues affecting Tuvalu’s sovereignty and survival,” Keen told BenarNews, a news service affiliated with Radio Free Asia.  

“We can expect that Tuvalu’s voice will be well projected at home and in the region.”

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This photo taken on Jan. 25, 2024, shows people outside a polling station on election day in Funafuti, the capital of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu. (Sam Pedro/AFP)

Teo was congratulated on social media site X by lawmaker and former foreign minister Simon Kofe. It was the first time in Tuvalu’s history that a prime minister had been nominated unopposed, Kofe said. 

Tuvalu, home to about 11,000 people, is one of the dwindling number of nations that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of Beijing. Last month, another Pacific island nation, Nauru, severed ties with Taiwan, reducing its diplomatic allies to 12 countries. Among Pacific island nations, Palau and the Marshall Islands also recognize Taiwan.

China’s government has courted Pacific island nations for the past two decades as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, gain allies in international institutions and challenge U.S. dominance. Beijing regards Taiwan, a democracy and globally important tech manufacturing center, as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland.

Kofe, in a radio interview last month, said views on diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and a security treaty with Australia, which was signed in November last year, are likely to influence groupings in the new Parliament. 

The treaty between Tuvalu and Australia, called the Falepili Union, requires Tuvalu to have Australia’s agreement for “any partnership, arrangement or engagement with any other state or entity on security and defence-related matters.” Its expansive scope and lack of consultation was criticized during the election campaign.

Tuvalu also is seeking U.S. $1.3 billion from international donors for a land reclamation plan that would double the size of Fongafale, the most populated island, by reclaiming 3.6 square kilometers (1.4 square miles) from its lagoon. 

Tuvalu says half of Fongafale would be inundated during the high tide by 2050. Its projections for sea-level rise are based on the most pessimistic scenario for greenhouse gas emissions developed by the United Nations’ climate panel.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

The story's headline was updated.

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