Outrage as PM welcomes Chinese policing role in Tonga during Pacific Leaders’ Forum

Tongan social media has lit up with outrage after Prime Minister Hu‘akavameiliku said he saw no problem with China offering to police the Pacific Leaders Forum in Nuku‘alofa in August.

A team from the People’s Republic of China’s Police & Security visited Tonga and paid a courtesy call to the Hon. Prime Minister, Hu’akavameiliku on April 3, 2024.. Photo/PM Office, Tonga

His announcement comes a week after Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka announced that Chinese police who had been based at police headquarters in Suva had been sent home.

In an attempt to justify why he was allowing a Chinese police presence when Tonga had several policing pacts with Australia and New Zealand, Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku said:  “It is nothing new.”

“We have always worked with China and other countries as well.”

He fell short of confirming whether Tonga and China had previously worked closely in policing deals.

As we reported last week, Australia, New Zealand and Tonga have a Tri-party Partnership on Policing, a trilateral arrangement focusing on developing leadership and building an efficient and effective Policing service that has the trust and confidence of the community.

Tonga and New Zealand’s current Policing Programme (TNZPP) 2022 – 2025 was aimed at increasing skills, knowledge and capability to deliver policing services.

PM Hu’akavameiliku’s reaction had been described as “downplaying” Australia’s call for Pacific islanders not to allow China an opportunity to police in the region.

It comes after the Australian Pacific Minister, Pat Conroy, said: “We are aware that they [China] are seeking a greater security role in the Pacific and we have been consistent in our view that there is no role for China in policing, or broader security, in the Pacific”.

He said Pacific Island leaders had agreed at a meeting of the Pacific Island Forum regional bloc in 2022 to fill any security gaps from within the “Pacific family”.

Director-General of Security for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, told Al Jazeera early last year: “They [China] are using espionage to covertly understand Australia’s politics and decision-making, our alliances and partnerships and our economic and policy priorities”.

Kaniva News reported last week that Hon. Hu’akavameiliku’s reactions did not sit well with many of the Tongan social media users.

One user on Facebook said in Tongan: “What s * * t is the Prime Minister thinking about …”

“This is friendship with a person who is liable at any moment to turn around and injure one at
any time,” another user compared China policing in the kingdom to the Tongan proverb,
“Popoto mo manufekai”.

A commenter also wrote: “We express our thoughts here for the Prime Minister to see while he is doing what he wants. But let’s not complaint when we face the consequences”.

A handful of posters on Facebook backed PM Hu‘akavameiliku declaring his comments “quite right” and “well said”.

However, the majority of commenters were opposed to his position, with one declaring it could affect Tonga’s long time relationship with Australia and New Zealand.

“It is the Communism that is now slowly coming to Tonga and its anti-Christianity,” they said. Another encouraged fellow commenters to “consider the fact that Tonga owed China a lot of money through government loans”.

Tongan and China’s Diplomatic Relations had been always described as “warm and vibrant”.

China and Tonga established diplomatic relations in 1998. The King and Queen of Tonga have paid state visits to China.

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in 2022 that Chinse assistance to the kingdom during the Covid-19 epidemic and in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption had won “ wide praise and heartfelt gratitude from the Tongan people.”

Kaniva News has contacted the Chinese Embassy in Tonga for comment.

Chinese police in Fiji

The Prime Minister’s announcement about Chinese police at the Pacific Leaders’ Forum comes a week after Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka   said his government had removed Chinese officers who were embedded in the Fijian police force.

It will maintain a controversial contentious policing agreement with Beijing.

“I did not know how that came about and I was uncomfortable … because we have different legal systems and policing and investigating methods,” Prime Minister Rabuka said.

“Those officers working in our headquarters were repatriated. We have looked at that and there’s no need for us to have (Chinese) officers embedded.”

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