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Little did I know a few days ago that I would be writing an article about Tonga. With the world so focused on covid, tennis players, supply chain problems and a myriad of associated issues, it was not something I expected. But here I am diving down rabbit holes and coming up with a disturbing problem. All rabbit holes seem to lead to China.

A natural disaster such as the one just experienced can have enormous ramifications. Not just for Tonga, but for the Pacific region. Like all smaller nations in the Pacific, a natural disaster is an economic and social catastrophe that makes them reliant on overseas aid to rebuild and regroup. Whoever provides this aid will potentially control the nation. 

This eruption might be a blessing in disguise... for China.

The Chinese influence is already apparent. Following a riot back in 2006 when Tongan's burned down Nuku’alofa in demonstrations, Australia and New Zealand didn't really do a great deal to help rebuild. Beijing made a loan of over $100 million and the Chinese government sent workers in to rebuild. That may not seem like a lot of money but that would be roughly one quarter of Tonga's Gross Domestic Product. In the capital, Nuku’alofa, the government officials work from a flash new building - a gift from China. The Chinese Embassy is equally impressive. Their generosity has not been confined to civic buildings. 

Tongan civil servants take all-expenses-paid training trips to Beijing each year, and China has looked out for the needs of Tongan athletes who are sent to Beijing to train in world-class facilities.  

Since then, China has increased its generosity and hence its influence in the Pacific in other countries such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.   

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Repayments start in 2022....... 

In the 1990's Tonga started selling passports. In an attempt to attract Hong Kong residents following the 1997 handover from Britain, they were in fact bought by mainland Chinese. This resulted in an increase in the number of Chinese Tongans who now own many of the businesses 

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Tonga is geographically very strategically well located. If Tonga was to fall to China, Australia and New Zealand would be sitting ducks and our old friend USA is hardly in a position to be of much assistance in the current political climate.

Too many smaller nations have become debt traps. In Sri Lanka, for example, the government was forced to hand over control of its southern port as it struggled to repay the loans it got from China to build the facility — this has given China quite a significant casting off point for neighbouring India.

New Zealand is already very timid when it comes to China and both New Zealand and Victoria in Australia are keen to become part of the Belt and Road initiative. 

 

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The only thing in our favour is the number of Tongans who have family and friends living in Australia and New Zealand. But when it comes to government decisions, it would be naive to expect any loyalty from Tonga to two countries that are almost like an ex husband or wife who doesn't want anything to do with the ex, but also does not want them to date anybody else. I suspect that money will overcome any familial sense of duty or loyalty and the people of Tonga won't have much of a say in the matter.

 How Australia and New Zealand handle this situation will be interesting. Personally, I suspect that China will outbid them and win control of Tonga through the sheer power of money. If this happens, the eruption may well be a metaphoric atomic bomb. In fact, it actually looked like one....

 

 

 

 

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