Tuvalu's pro-Taiwan Prime Minister loses election

The Pacific archipelago is one of only 12 countries in the world to diplomatically recognise Taiwan and is now caught in the middle of the growing rivalry between the US and China.

Funafuti (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The now former pro-Taiwan prime minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano, failed to confirm himself in one of the two seats up for grabs on the main island of Funafuti, according to the final election results published on Saturday.

This fuels fears in Taipei and the Americans, according to which the Pacific micronation could be ready to enter Beijing's sphere of influence, despite being one of 12 countries in the world that has official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Tuvalu, with a population of around 11,200 inhabitants distributed across nine islands, is in fact one of Taiwan's three remaining allies in the Pacific, after Nauru cut ties with the island and passed into the Chinese sphere of influence, which promised more development aid.

Around 6,000 of the eligible inhabitants went to the polls: among the most voted candidates - especially on the island of Nukulaelae - there is the former finance minister of Natano, Seve Paeniu, who during the election campaign declared himself in favor of idea of reviewing relations with China.

After the vote, Paeniu said he would try to form a coalition among the elected legislators and run to become their prime minister.

Natano - who became internationally famous for the press conference requesting "climate asylum" for the inhabitants of the archipelago made with floods in the ocean - had pledged to continue to support Taiwan, a diplomatic ally of the archipelago since 1979.

The Diplomatic tussle between Taiwan and China comes amid a broader competition for influence in the Pacific between China and the United States, with Washington recently promising to build the first undersea cable to connect Tuvalu to global telecommunications.

At the end of the election, Enele Sopoaga retained her seat. Sopoaga has always expressed support for Taiwan, but wants the security agreement with Australia - in an anti-Beijing perspective - signed by Natano to be cancelled.

Tuvalu's electoral commissioner, Tufoua Panapa, said the newly elected local legislators would meet next week to choose the prime minister: “We will have a clearer picture by next week, as we need to give the elected MPs time to arrive on the 'capital island, from the outer islands,' he concluded, as the boat journey can take up to 27 hours.