Tongan diaspora blasts PM Hu‘akavameiliku over leaked document supporting China against Australia, NZ over involvement in Solomon Islands

The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised after documents from his government criticising Australia and New Zealand against China were leaked to media.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku

The leaked document from Tonga’s Foreign Affairs Ministry shows that kingdom’s officials sharply criticised Australia and New Zealand’s response to the security pact signed by China and Solomon Islands, while declaring that Pacific diplomacy from Western nations was “failing”.

“The views expressed by ANZ [Australia and New Zealand] on the situation in the Solomon Islands are that only they (or the Pacific) can decide which countries Pacific states should align themselves with,” the document says.

“This clearly shows they remain far removed from Pacific realities and only echoes the condescending rhetoric that we, unfortunately, see too often from ANZ leadership.”

The document acknowledges China’s “growing clout” in the region and says many Pacific island states are facing “threats to strategic independence as a result of growing indebtedness to Beijing”.

But it says that in the end, Solomon Islands is a “sovereign nation and has the right to make decisions about its own security”.

“Tonga should continue to promote that fact including the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states,” it reads.

Last month’s leak came after the Morrison and Ardern governments tried in 2022 to rally Pacific nations to press Solomon Islands not to sign the vaguely worded and deeply contentious agreement with Beijing, in part because they feared it would allow Beijing to establish a military presence in the country.

The pact was signed by Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who promoted his pro-China stance as a key pillar in his bid for re-election. Sogavare lost the election, but was replaced by Jeremiah Manele, who has an equally strong Stand in favour of China.

The strongly worded assessment of the strategic situation was first published by the ABC last month and was republished by Kaniva News.

According to ABC, “The five-page document calls New Zealand’s response to the Solomon Islands-China security agreement “nothing short of frantic” and flags that its then-Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta had requested a phone call to her Tongan counterpart to express Wellington’s “grave” concerns about the pact”.

A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the ABC that it was “for Tongan officials to determine how they brief their ministers”.

“New Zealand’s objections to Solomon Islands and China’s secretive security pact have not diminished. We see that agreement as unnecessary and unwelcome,” they said.

Tongan diaspora reactions

The leaked letter baffled many Tongans living in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, with many saying the Prime Minister, who was then Minister of Foreign Affairs, was out of touch with reality.

Many have taken to Facebook and criticised PM Hu’akavameiliku and his government in the comments section under Kaniva News’ story on the leak.

“What is the purpose?”, a commenter asked the Prime Minister in Tongan.

Another asked the Prime Minister to tell them the countries where most members of the Tongan diaspora lived, comparing Australia, New Zealand, the USA and China.

“The Prime Minister should step down now”, one commenter wrote, describing China’s involvement in Tonga as an enemy “fili”. They also described the leaked letter as playing with fire (“va’inga’aki ‘a e afi”) referring to the Communist Party’s stance against Christianity.

“Where is our Tuku Fonua ki Langi”, a commenter wrote, referring to an 1893 prayer in  which King George Tupou I committed Tonga to God’s protection.

Some liked a comment which asked where the church leaders were to speak up on this issue.

However, some commentators took sides with the Prime Minister and asked whether Tonga had received enough benefits from Australia and New Zealand over the years and referred to restrictions on resident visas and the deportation of the overstayers.

China has free visa entry agreements with Tonga.

Foreign remittances

According to a report from the Australian National University’s Development Policy Centre, personal remittances received in Tonga in 2021 were estimated to be US$220 million, or equivalent to around 44% of Tongan gross domestic product (GDP).

The ANU report said the majority of Tongan households received remittances. The mean remittances sent home in the second half of 2021 was TP$5,892, equal to Aus$3,684 or NZS4,065.

As Kaniva News reported previously,  a World Bank report said remittances made up more than a third of the kingdom’s GDP in 2015. The bank report said remittances mostly came from Tongans living in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. It said Tonga depended more on money sent home by migrant workers than any other country in the Pacific.

There are about 100,000 more Tongan people living overseas than in Tonga.

This includes 33,000 Tongans living in Australia according to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trades, 82,389 living in New Zealand according to Statistics New Zealand, 2018, and 67,221 living in the USA recorded by Wikipedia. There are only 100,179 people living in Tonga, according to Tonga Statistics, 2021.

There are also many Tongans in Asia and Europe.

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