Australia and China have stepped up their vying for influence among
the Pacific nations in recent weeks.
Canberra’s recently appointed Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited Samoa and Tonga in the hope of boosting ties.
She will have been heartened by the failure of her Chinese counterpart to secure a regional security deal but will be aware of its growing influence.
Ms Wong, who has placed great emphasis on strengthening ties with Pacific nations, arrived just days after her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi’s whistle-stop tour of the region.
The Aussie foreign minister, who the previous week had flown to Fiji, said: “We will increase our contribution to
regional security: we under-stand that the security of the Pacific is the responsibility of the Pacific family, of which Australia is a part.
“We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Pacific family in addressing the existential threat of climate change. And we will deepen cultural and sporting ties.”
Two-thirds of the Tonga national debt of $195m – some 36 per cent of its gross domestic product – is owed to China’s Export-Import Bank.
Chinese influence on Samoa is also growing with Beijing behind the building of the country’s police academy and a police forensics laboratory.
During his visit to Tonga, Mr Wang met with King Tupou VI in Nuku’alofa.
Confronted with the quadruple challenges of the recent volcano eruption and tsunami, along with flight interruptions and the Covid-19 pandemic, China had come to Tonga’s assistance, said the King.
“Facts have proved that the friendship with China has always been reflected by concrete actions rather than empty promises,” he said.
“Tonga firmly pursues the one-China principle and will continue to take it as the cornerstone to continuously push forward bilateral relations,” he said.
Mr Wang, who visited eight Pacific countries during his tour of the region, pledged to support Tonga’s post-disaster recovery and reconstruction.
He also met Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni, who praised China.
“Both Tonga and China adhere to the principles of non-interference in internal affairs and respect for sovereignty,” he said.
“Tonga will continue to firmly pursue the one-China principle and is staunchly committed to enhancing the friendship between Tonga and China.
“Tonga looks forward to strengthening the synergy of Belt and Road cooperation with China and deepening practical cooperation in various fields.”
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