Election of new Tuvalu PM stirs unease in Taiwan after break with Solomon Islands

Tuvalu parliament picks Kausea Natano to replace Taiwan ally Enele Sopoaga

Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu (Photo from social media)

Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu (Photo from social media)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The parliament of the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu on Thursday (Sept. 19) chose a new prime minister following the general election for parliament held on Sept. 9.

The 16-member parliament of Tuvalu, which is a diplomatic ally of Taiwan, selected Kausea Natano ​​​​​to replace Enele Sopoaga, who was considered a staunch supporter of Taiwan-Tuvalu ties. Natano’s election as head of state has many observers speculating that Tuvalu may be the next target of China's dollar diplomacy following the recent break of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and the Solomon Islands.

According to a report by Al Jazeera, Natano secured 10 out of 16 votes in a secret ballot against an unnamed opponent that was most likely Sopoaga. Sopoaga retained his seat in the parliament and before Thursday’s vote was expected by many to also retain his position as prime minister.

Although some speculate that the new leadership in Funafuti, Tuvalu’s capital, might signal uncertainty for Taiwan-Tuvalu relations, Natano’s position on China and Taiwan is not clear at this time. Following the announcement of the new prime minister, representatives from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Funafuti proclaimed that the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan remain stable, reports Reuters.

Taiwan's ambassador in Tuvalu, Marc Su, told Reuters that although Beijing is increasing its efforts to draw away Taiwan’s allies, Beijing has limited influence in Tuvalu after a failed attempt to court its government just over a decade ago. "This country is OK — there won't be any effect," said Su.

The nation of Tuvalu is a former British colony with a population of just over 11,000. It is one of Taiwan's remaining official diplomatic allies, which are down to 16 after the Solomon Islands announced it was severing ties with Taipei on Monday (Sept. 16).