New Tuvalu PM Feleti Teo Named as Taiwan, China Relations Hang in the Balance

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(Bloomberg) -- Feleti Teo has been elected unopposed as the next prime minister of the small Pacific nation of Tuvalu, a decision which may have implications for one of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies in the region.

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Former Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe congratulated Teo on his election on Monday, in a post on X. “It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The Taiwan government relayed its well wishes to the new leader of Tuvalu, one of the three nations in the Pacific that still maintain relations with Taipei, and expressed optimism that ties would be steadfast.

Teo “holds a friendly position toward Taiwan,” according to a statement issued by its Foreign Ministry. “He has said Taiwan-Tuvalu ties are stable and he supports the position that diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Tuvalu are a long-held consensus among all sectors of Tuvalu society,” the statement on Monday said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang would visit the Pacific nation in the “near future,” it said.

A former deputy secretary of the Pacific Island Forum, Teo’s election comes almost a month after Tuvalu’s polls in which former prime minister Kausea Natano lost his seat, sparking a new contest for leadership. Natano was a key Pacific supporter of Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its territory.

Before the January vote, lawmakers expected a likely re-evaluation of Tuvalu’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan after Nauru earlier this year said it was switching its recognition to China.

Jess Marinaccio, a former official at Tuvalu’s Foreign Ministry, described Teo as one of the most “internationally experienced people elected to Parliament.” Marinaccio, now an assistant professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, said it was unclear what Teo’s position will be on Taiwan or China as he had been “tight-lipped” on the subject.

Teo will also decide on the future of a security and migration agreement which was struck with Australia in November. That pact has proved controversial in Tuvalu, with some lawmakers saying it gave up too much of the island’s sovereignty to Australia.

(Updates with Taiwan government comment in third to fifth paragraph.)

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