Tuvalu’s Taiwan ties, Australia security treaty in focus following election

Incumbent prime minister, who has supported ties with Taiwan, lost his seat in Parliament.
By Stephen Wright for BenarNews
2024.01.29
Sydney, Australia
Tuvalu’s Taiwan ties, Australia security treaty in focus following election This photo taken on Jan. 26, 2024 shows a woman placing her vote into a ballot box at a polling station on election day in Funafuti, the capital of the south Pacific nation of Tuvalu.
AFP

Tuvalu’s recognition of Taiwan and its contentious security treaty with Australia could be reviewed by a new government after elections in the Pacific island country produced significant changes for its 16-member parliament.

According to preliminary election results reported on Saturday by Tuvalu’s state television, Prime Minister Kausea Natano, who has previously praised ties with Taiwan, didn’t win enough votes to stay in Parliament. 

He had been criticized by some of Tuvalu’s politicians for lack of consultation in last year signing a security agreement that gave broad powers to Australia as it tries to counter China’s inroads in the region.

Finance Minister Seve Paeniu, who has reportedly said Tuvalu’s diplomatic relations should be reviewed following the election, was reelected without a vote as there were only two candidates in his constituency, Tuvalu TV said, citing the election commission.  

The atoll nation has eight constituencies, each of which elects two representatives to Parliament, and has no formal political parties. About half of those elected are first-time legislators, Radio New Zealand reported.

Tuvalu, home to about 11,000 people, is one of the dwindling number of nations that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of Beijing. Earlier this month, another Pacific island nation, Nauru, severed ties with Taiwan, reducing its diplomatic allies to 12 countries. Among Pacific island nations, Palau and 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 and gain allies in international institutions. Beijing regards Taiwan, a democracy and globally important tech manufacturing center, as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland.

Paeniu told BenarNews last month that Tuvalu is seeking $1.3 billion 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. 

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Tuvalu's Prime Minister Kausea Natano, pictured at the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 22, 2023, didn’t get enough votes to return to parliament in Tuvalu’s election on Jan. 26, 2024, fueling speculation the country could sever ties with Taiwan and recognize China. (AFP)

Tuvalu’s Parliament may meet this week to consider forming a government and electing a prime minister, depending on how long it takes for outer island representatives to reach the capital atoll Funafuti.

Simon Kofe, a former foreign minister of Tuvalu, said the security treaty and diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China are among the key issues that could influence the formation of a government.

“There is one politician in particular who has expressed interest in revisiting the relationship with Taiwan and whether or not we should be switching to China,” he said in an interview with Radio New Zealand.

“Some politicians have also expressed their view on the treaty with Australia, and there was some strong opposition on that as well, so I think those are probably two key issues that may influence the groupings after the election results.”

The treaty between Tuvalu and Australia, called the Falepili Union, was signed by the prime ministers of the two countries at the annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum in November. 

It 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.”

It also created a special visa category for Tuvaluans to live and work in Australia, which was described as a response to projected sea-level rise, and allocated several million dollars for land reclamation. 

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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