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Newly elected Tuvaluan prime minister affirms ties with Taiwan: MOFA

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The flags of Taiwan and Tuvalu fly next to each other in this CNA file photo

Taipei, Feb. 26 (CNA) Taiwan has received reassurances from Tuvalu's newly elected prime minister, Feleti Teo, that his country will continue to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a press release Monday.

Teo's comments came after media reports stated the Pacific ally could switch allegiance to Beijing in the wake of its January election.

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation.

Following the announcement, Taiwan's Ambassador to Tuvalu Andrew Lin (林東亨) congratulated both Teo and Governor-General Tofiga Falani on behalf of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the Republic of China government, and its people, MOFA said.

According to MOFA, the new prime minister has visited Taiwan several times and is known for his Taiwan-friendly stance.

Teo told Lin following his election victory that there has been a "consensus" in Tuvalu to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

His new government will continue to work hand in hand with Taiwan's government in promoting cooperation projects that benefit people on both sides, MOFA quoted Teo as saying.

His new government will also continue to uphold Funafuti's long-held stance of supporting Taiwan's international participation, Teo said.

Meanwhile, MOFA announced that Deputy Minister Tien Chung-kwang (田中光) will soon be visiting Tuvalu in the capacity of Tsai's special envoy to congratulate Teo and his new government.

Teo is a former executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission -- more commonly known as the Pacific Tuna Commission.

He has also held the position of attorney-general. He won in the Niutao district in the Jan. 26 election, unseating his brother and former Speaker of Parliament Samuelu Teo.

Monday's election to determine the new prime minister was supposed to be held straight after the island nation held a general election to choose its 16 members of parliament on Jan. 26.

Stormy weather and rough seas, however, prevented several lawmakers from traveling by boat from outer islands to the capital, Funafuti, to select a new leader until late last week.

There were concerns before Teo was selected on Monday, after outgoing Tuvaluan Finance Minister Seve Paeniu, who secured a seat on Jan. 26 and was said to contend for the country's leadership, told Reuters last month that Tuvalu's ties with Taiwan "need to be debated and reviewed in the new parliament."

Paeniu argued that the Tuvalu electorate wanted more financial support from the international community to help the island nation address climate change and other issues.

In contrast, outgoing Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano, who had pledged support for Taiwan, lost his seat in the elections, according to media reports.

MOFA previously rejected reports suggesting that the country might follow Nauru in severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan after its elections.

"The majority of the known newly elected members of parliament are supportive of the Taiwan-Tuvalu relationship," MOFA said, noting that those people "maintain a friendly stance [towards Taiwan] and "back the continuation of the ties between the two countries."

The elections in Tuvalu, a tiny island nation with a population of about 11,000, were closely watched following Nauru's diplomatic switch from Taipei to Beijing on Jan. 15, shortly after Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) was elected president.

That left Taiwan with only 12 countries that formally recognize the Republic of China.

Taipei has criticized Beijing for poaching Nauru, calling the move "a retaliatory act against democratic values and a clear challenge to the stability of the international order."

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