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INTERVIEW/Senior Tuvalu parliamentarians voice support for ties with Taiwan

02/01/2024 03:29 PM
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Tuvaluan parliamentarian Enele Sopoaga, who served as his country's prime minister from 2013-2019, speaks at an event held by Taiwan's representative office in New York on Sept. 19, 2018. CNA file photo
Tuvaluan parliamentarian Enele Sopoaga, who served as his country's prime minister from 2013-2019, speaks at an event held by Taiwan's representative office in New York on Sept. 19, 2018. CNA file photo

Sydney, Feb. 1 (CNA) A Tuvaluan prime ministerial hopeful and the country's departing prime minister on Wednesday both expressed their support for the continued diplomatic ties with Taiwan, after recent warnings that relations could be severed.

"The issue of the relationship between Tuvalu and Taiwan, under me, will not be a problem," Enele Sopoaga, who won reelection to the country's parliament on Jan. 26, told CNA in a video interview on Wednesday.

"You can read my lips. Yes. I will not make any slightest change. There is no need even to look at that issue right now," said Sopoaga, who previously served as prime minister from 2013-2019.

Sopoaga's comments came after Bikenibeu Paeniu, Tuvalu's ambassador to the Republic of China (ROC), the official name of Taiwan, was cited in a Weekend Australian article on Jan. 19 as saying "sources from Tuvalu" had told him the country could follow Nauru and switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing after Tuvalu's general election on Jan. 26.

Paeniu, who is also a former Tuvaluan prime minister, called on Australia and its allies and partners to closely watch the situation and to step up their support for his nation.

Additionally, Tuvaluan Finance Minister Seve Paeniu, who has retained his parliamentary seat and is also a contender for the country's leadership, told Reuters after the election that Tuvalu's ties with Taiwan "need to be debated and reviewed in the new parliament."

The warnings prompted concerns that Taiwan might be dealt another diplomatic blow in the Pacific region, after Nauru announced on Jan.15 that it was severing ties with Taipei to recognize Beijing.

Nauru's move, which came less than two days after Vice President William Lai (賴清德) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won Taiwan's presidential election, left the ROC with 12 allies, including the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Palau in the Pacific region.

Jan. 15: Taiwan, Nauru end diplomatic relations

Jan. 15: China's post-election poaching of Nauru 'an assault on democracy': MOFA

In response to the reports, Sopoaga said he was taken by surprise that the comments, which he called "calculated," came from the highest level of governance.

The two countries cooperate well in the areas of national development, education, climate change, and medical support schemes facilitated by Taiwan, Sopoaga said, adding that if elected prime minister, he will maintain recognition of Taiwan.

Any concern about Tuvalu-Taiwan relations "is a nonissue," Sopoaga said.

Sopoaga said he could not believe that Tuvalu's ambassador in Taiwan was speaking about the possibility of the country following a "one China policy."

"I think this is bullshit. As far as I'm concerned, there is no 'one China policy'," Sopoaga told CNA.

Sopoaga described "one China policy" as "propaganda" employed "by the other side" and not a term found in any resolution adopted by the United Nations.

Outgoing Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano gives a speech during a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei on Sept. 5, 2022. CNA file photo
Outgoing Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano gives a speech during a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei on Sept. 5, 2022. CNA file photo

Meanwhile, in a separate interview with CNA on Wednesday, the departing Tuvaluan Prime Minister Kausea Natano said he was optimistic about future Taiwan-Tuvalu ties.

The idea of switching diplomatic recognition is based on the assumption Tuvalu will get more financial support from China, which Natano, who lost his seat in parliament during the latest election, described as a "myth."

Natano also said he was confident that a majority of the newly elected parliamentarians are supportive of Taiwan-Tuvalu diplomatic links, established in 1979.

Natano added that he believed that a new prime minister would maintain Tuvalu's current stance.

Tuvalu has no political parties, and the 16 newly elected parliamentary members, who all ran as independents, will engage in negotiations before the largest group forms a government and elects a prime minister.

(By Yang Chun-huei and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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