Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Former attorney general is named new prime minister after a general election that ousted the island’s pro-Taiwan leader.

Pacific islands
Tuvalu is one of only 12 countries that have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan [File: Mario Tama/Getty Images]

Lawmakers in Tuvalu have named former Attorney General Feleti Teo as the Pacific Island nation’s new prime minister, weeks after a general election that put the country’s ties with Taiwan in the spotlight.

In a statement on Monday, Tuvalu’s government said Teo was the only candidate nominated by his 15 lawmaker colleagues and was declared elected without a vote.

The swearing-in ceremony for Teo and his cabinet will be held later this week.

Teo’s elevation to prime minister comes after his pro-Taiwan predecessor, Kausea Natano, lost his seat in the January 26 election.

Natano had wanted Tuvalu – which is home to a population of about 11,200 people – to remain one of only 12 countries that have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the self-governed island that China claims as its own territory.

Natano’s former finance minister, Seve Paeniu, who was considered a leadership contender, had said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

The comments prompted concern in Taiwan, especially as Tuvalu’s neighbour Nauru recently severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing, which had promised more development help.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers in Tuvalu to review a wide-ranging defence and migration deal signed with Australia in November. The agreement allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other countries, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate to Australia.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general and has decades of experience as a senior official in the fisheries industry – the region’s biggest revenue earner.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The naming of the new prime minister had been delayed by persistent bad weather that left several lawmakers stranded on the nation’s outer islands and unable to reach the capital.

Jess Marinaccio, an assistant professor in Pacific Studies at California State University, told the AFP news agency it was too early to say whether Teo would maintain ties with Taiwan.

But international relations will be high on the list of issues for Teo’s new government, she said.

“It will definitely be something they talk about. They also have to choose high commissioners and ambassadors, so Taiwan will be in there,” she said.

“It will be a high priority, along with climate change and telecommunications, because the coverage in Tuvalu is not fantastic.”

Source: News Agencies