Tiny Tuvalu to 'stand firm' with Taiwan as Pacific competition hots up

TAIPEI, Sept 5 (Reuters) - The leader of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu pledged on a trip to Taiwan on Monday to "stand firm" on a commitment to lasting ties, drawing Taiwan's thanks at a time of growing competition as China expands its influence in the region.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 10,000, is one of only 14 countries to retain full diplomatic relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, and one of four in the Pacific where Beijing and Washington are tussling for influence.

Speaking at a welcome ceremony in Taipei hosted by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano said "decent and common values" have always been an added strength to their bond after 43 years of relations.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

"Through tumultuous times of geostrategic agendas, we continue to stand firm in our commitment to remain a lasting and loyal ally of the Republic of China," Natano said, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

"I recognise the cornerstones of our diplomatic ties, involving two nations founded on the principles of democracy, trust, human rights and freedom of the individual."

Tuvalu's Prime Minister Kausea Natano speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool

Natano is on first trip to Taiwan since being elected in 2019.

Tsai praised their strong friendships, and thanked Tuvalu for speaking up for Taiwan on the world stage and support for its international participation.

"I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Tuvalu for its invaluable friendship," she said.

Taiwan lost two Pacific allies to Beijing in 2019: the Solomon Islands and Kiribati. Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands have, like Tuvalu, stuck with Taipei.

The Solomon Islands has become a focal point in the escalating competition between China and the United States in the strategically important region, and has had a tense relationship with the United States and its allies since striking a security pact with China this year. read more

U.S. President Joe Biden will host leaders of Pacific Island nations at a Sept. 28-29 gathering in Washington, the latest U.S. effort to step up ties with the region. read more

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.