Taiwan douses speculation it may lose another Pacific ally

Taiwan douses speculation it may lose another Pacific ally
Taiwan douses speculation it may lose another Pacific ally

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The dwindling list of countries that officially recognise Taiwan shrunk earlier this month, when Nauru abruptly severed diplomatic ties in favour of Beijing. — AFP pic

SYDNEY, Jan 23 — Taiwanese diplomats today said they were confident of retaining “a strong bond” with key partner Tuvalu as speculation mounted that the Pacific micronation could soon switch its allegiance to Beijing.

The dwindling list of countries that officially recognise Taiwan shrunk earlier this month, when Nauru abruptly severed diplomatic ties in favour of Beijing.

With Tuvalu heading to the polls on Friday, some Pacific watchers have questioned whether Beijing could look to force a similar switch.

But Taiwan ambassador to Tuvalu Andrew Lin rebuffed the idea, saying the two allies enjoyed a “very long-term friendship” that would endure “no matter who is going to be elected”.

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“I’m very confident that we will retain a strong bond,” Lin told AFP by phone from Tuvalu’s capital Funafuti.

Incumbent Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano is widely seen as a staunch friend of Taiwan.

But there is significant uncertainty regarding the outcome of Tuvalu’s looming vote and over which of the 16 elected MPs will be chosen as premier.

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China has been methodically poaching Taiwan’s friends in the Pacific region, convincing Solomon Islands and Kiribati to switch recognition in 2019.

Beijing struck a further blow this month, when Nauru announced it would “no longer develop any official relations” with Taiwan.

Senior Tuvalu diplomat Bikenibeu Paeniu recently told The Australian newspaper there were vague “rumours” his nation could soon “follow suit”.

Taiwan foreign ministry official Eric Chen tried to douse those rumours today, saying Paeniu’s comments did not represent the government’s official position.

“The foreign ministry has been paying close attention to China’s attempts to undermine our diplomatic relations with South Pacific countries,” Chen told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“The Tuvalu government once again emphasised that it will firm up diplomatic ties with us.”

Tuvalu is one of only 12 remaining states, including the Holy See, that fully recognise Taiwan.

It is among the world’s most vulnerable nations due to rising sea levels.

China claims democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as its sovereign territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if needed. — AFP

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