Tuvalu expects to review its diplomatic ties with Taiwan after Friday’s election.
Finance Minister Seve Paeniu told Reuters, adding voters in the tiny Pacific Island nation wanted more financial support from the international community for climate change and development.
Tuvalu, threatened by rising seas, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, which has only a dozen allies globally, after Nauru last week cut ties to instead recognise Beijing.
A national election will be held on Friday in the atoll nation of 11,200 people, where there are no political parties and voters select two lawmakers in each of eight electorates.
Paeniu, as one of only two candidates for the Nukulaelae island electorate, is guaranteed a seat in the new parliament.
Tuvalu’s ties with Taiwan, and a security and migration deal struck with Australia, have been raised as concerns by lawmakers and “need to be debated and reviewed in the new parliament”, he said.
“The Taiwan-China issue remains a debatable issue for any government, particularly following a general election. No doubt it will feature once again in the debates following the election and the new government will need to take a stance on it,” he said in a statement to Reuters.
The comments by Paeniu, a former economic adviser to Nauru, are the first by a Tuvalu lawmaker indicating diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, held since 1979, could be ditched in favour of Beijing.
“It comes down to whichever partner country is able to respond to and support achievement of Tuvalu’s development priorities and aspirations,” he said.
In 2019, Tuvalu said it had rejected an offer by China to build artificial islands in return for switching ties.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement several Tuvalu officials and politicians had congratulated Taiwan on its presidential election earlier this month “and reiterated their position on the continued firm defence of the friendship between the two countries”.
Tuvalu agreed to consult Canberra before making security arrangements with another nation, a broad definition covering port, telecommunications and cyber as well as policing, under a November deal that provides an Australian security guarantee and visa pathway for Tuvalu citizens to migrate.
The deal was criticised as infringing sovereignty by several Tuvalu lawmakers who want it revised, although Paeniu said it will go ahead if his government is returned.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told reporters on Tuesday that Australia wouldn’t intervene in any decision by Tuvalu on diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China.
Tuvalu’s islands stretch across 500,000 square kms of ocean, with infrequent boat links to the outer islands.
Australia provided $15 million, opens new tab in extra funding to Tuvalu last year for a harbour construction project financed by the Asia Development Bank to enable the contract to be awarded on quality rather than price alone. An Australian construction company subsequently replaced a Chinese state-owned company involved in the construction, documents show. Australia has also funded land reclamation in Tuvalu to assist with rising sea levels.
The role of Chinese infrastructure in boosting China’s influence in the Pacific was shown in Nauru’s decision to switch ties from Taiwan to Beijing, after China Harbour Engineering Company built a harbour project.
Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano did not respond to Reuters request for comment amid a caretaker period before the election.
After votes are counted, government boats collect the new lawmakers from islands and bring them to the capital Funafuti, a journey that can take up to 27 hours. Coalitions are formed before a vote of lawmakers select the prime minister.
Paeniu said Tuvalu wants increased support from the international community for development and addressing climate change.
He said increased cost of living needs to be addressed by the next government, and people want to see a big improvement in public healthcare standards.