SYDNEY – Newly installed lawmakers of the tiny South Pacific country of Tuvalu elected a new prime minister on Thursday, a potential blow for ally Taiwan, which had diplomatic ties to another Pacific island nation cut this week in favor of Beijing.
Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, a strong supporter of Taiwan, had been expected hold on to power after he retained his seat at a general election earlier this month.
But country’s 16-person parliament instead selected Kausea Natano as Tuvalu’s new leader, Silafaga Lalua, a spokeswoman for the government told Reuters.
Natano secured 10 votes in the secret ballot. His opponent was not named, and his position on diplomatic ties with Taiwan was not immediately known.
China claims Taiwan as its territory and says it has no right to formal ties with any nation.
The South Pacific has been a diplomatic stronghold for Taiwan, which now has formal relations with just 16 countries.
Solomon Islands on Monday became the sixth country to cut off ties with Taiwan since 2016, rattling Western allies and promoting accusations from Taipei that China was meddling with Taiwan’s elections.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has declined to meet Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, while Washington said it is reassessing its assistance the South Pacific country in the wake of the decision.