By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – The so-called China issue ceases to be perceived as problematic when all parties concerned accept the fact that it is not an option to pull apart in isolation, but, instead, work out amicable ways of co-existing that will benefit all involved. After all, we are now transitioning into a global economy and it is vital that Tonga find ways to strengthen its own economic and development strategies to meet the growing challenges of a world deeply affected by the pandemic.
In the previous part of the interview (read story here) with Ambassador Cao Xiaolin, he spoke quite frankly about the Tonga-China relations.
“Tonga is a country of unique history, culture and tradition,” he says, ‘With a special influence in the Pacific Island region and has been hailed as a pearl in the world civilizations. Both China and Tonga are now taking a development path suited to our own national conditions. The two countries should achieve common prosperity and make the world civilizations more colorful through mutual learning and deepened exchanges.”
Question 2 – the China loan has been a subject of much conversation in Tonga. It is understood because it is a loan from a bank, it could not be turned into a grant as it would violate bank rules. Are there other options advised for Tonga to follow in getting its loan paid off?
Ambassador Cao Xiaolin:
After the chaos of burning and looting in 2006, the Tongan Government asked for help on the CBD development from some countries and was turned down. When Tonga approached China for help, China agreed to lend some preferential loans to the Tongan Government after friendly consultation.
This demonstrated that China is a true friend of Tonga, as the saying goes that a friend in need is a friend indeed. The Tongan Government was confident that it would be able to pay back the loans.
When we look back, it was a prudent and rational decision at that time. In practice, the CBD project has created many job opportunities and has been extremely helpful to the social and economic development of Tonga. Both the Tongan Government and the Tongan people are incredibly happy with the CBD project.
Tonga has the ability to pay the loans
Some information from my colleagues in Exim bank state that the Tongan Government has the ability to pay the loans, since the repayment is not big every year. But we understand the challenges the Tongan Government faces, like many other countries at the time of the pandemic.
China suspended the second payment of the loan this year (2020) under the G20 debt suspension initiative and is considering the suspension of the first payment of the loan for the new year (2021) because the world economy is still hard hit by Covid-19.
For the countries who have difficulties in repaying the loan, China will not press for the payment, but try to find a solution to address the difficulty through bilateral consultation.
Question 3: Is there a policy that all aid to Tonga from China must necessarily go through the Government? Or can there be assistance that can be negotiated or requested directly from/to the private sector and/or from non-government organizations?
Ambassador Cao Xiaolin:
China provides aid to Tonga at the central government level, at the provincial level and at the Embassy level. The purpose of these aids is to help the Tongan government and the Tongan people achieve a sounder and better social and economic development.
History and facts have proved that China aids have been very efficient and brought tangible benefits to Tonga. Faced with the challenges of Covid-19 and no international flights, Guangdong Province provided farm tractors, water tanks, fishing boats, solar power streetlights, computers, sidewalks to Tonga this year.
Some Australian scholars have given a high credit to China aid in Tonga, and some other Pacific Island countries. The current aid model can ensure the quality and efficiency for the projects, especially for the big projects, which involves high technology.
Some China aid are channeled directly to the communities and families. The Chinese Embassy has sponsored and will help some communities and women’s organizations to raise pigs, chickens, cultivate vegetables, build fishing boats, and bus stop pavilions, etc.
China aid is quite diversified. We wish to have a closer collaboration with the private sector and the NGOs.
Question 4: On the One China policy, why is Taiwan allowed to contribute to the Government’s budget as noted on Table 17 (on the Government’s Budget) of the Cash Revenue by Source Funding: Donor Cash/Budget Support. There is the line stating that help from Taiwan, Republic of China for $650,000. Yet above it is a line clearly stating the People’s Republic of China.
The Ambassador, in answer said they called Government on it and was told it was a typo. But it is amazing to have a typo when there were two lines of entry, distinguishing the People’s Republic of China on one line from Taiwan (Yes, Taiwan is mentioned) as the Republic of China.
But that’s the Tongan Government’s response to the question from China on Taiwan’s contribution to budget support, an act that would go directly against the terms of the bilateral relations between China and Tonga.
Ambassador Cao Xiaolin:
One-China principle means there is only one-China in the world. Both the Chinese Mainland and Taiwan belong to the one and same China. Adhering to the one-China principle is the political foundation for China to establish diplomatic relations with other countries. The one-China principle has been supported and observed by the vast majority of the countries in the world, which is an historical trend.
I highly appreciate His Majesty King Tupou VI and His Majesty’s Government are committed to the one-China principle and do not have any official relationship with Taiwan.
Question 5: It is rumored that China is funding the establishment of the offices for the People’s Party (PAK) that is led by the Prime Minister and his deputy ‘Etuate Lavulavu. Is this correct? Does funding a political party falls in line with the policies of the bilateral relations between China and Tonga?
Ambassador Cao Xiaolin:
Party to party relationship is part of international relations. The goal of a party is to help people and serve people. In this sense, it is an open and aboveboard thing to help a party in its capacity building with the purpose to help its people.
The Embassy wishes to establish good working relationship with the parties in Tonga in an impartial manner. If they need any help in their capacity building, the Embassy will try to help in its capability. But we do not interfere in the domestic affairs. (* It is understood that the Chinese Embassy helped in purchasing of furniture for the PAK Office.)
Question 6: What are some of the areas that need attention in terms of China/Tonga bilateral development relations? What should we look for and anticipate for the future?
Ambassador Cao Xiaolin:
We should deepen the cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to achieve high-quality common development, which is one of the features of China-Tonga comprehensive strategic partnership.
The BRI is a cooperation proposal put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2013, with the purpose to connect the development of China with that of the world and to promote a common prosperity for all the countries in the world.
Until now China has signed 200 cooperation agreements on building the Belt and Road with 138 countries and 30 international organizations. The BRI is a platform of open and inclusive cooperation, and a public product jointly made by parties concerned to the whole world.
I am pleased to see that the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Tonga in various fields, particularly in economy, trade, infrastructure, clean energy, agriculture and health, has yielded fruitful results and promoted the economic and social development of Tonga.
For example, China has helped build a solar power station and will build a wind power generation plant to assist Tonga in coping with the climate change and achieving the goal of clean energy development.
Tonga is an important cooperation partner in BRI. China and Tonga signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the cooperation in building the Belt and Road in 2018, which has set up a broad platform and created a historic opportunity for the development of our bilateral ties.
With this MOU, our two countries can explore new areas for cooperation, tap the potentials for cooperation in science and technology, characteristic agriculture and fishery, so as to increase both the value-added Tongan products and the efficiency of cooperation between China and Tonga. In this way, our joint efforts will help Tonga transform the advantages in natural conditions and human resources into development opportunities to achieve a better economic growth.
Since I came to work in Tonga as the Chinese Ambassador on 1st January 2020, I have been thinking of finding a proper and sustainable way for Tongan agricultural produce to be exported to China in order to improve the two-way trade relation.
China has a huge consumption market which can absorb any Tongan agricultural produce. The biggest challenge is the transportation which is a disadvantage of the export of Tongan products to China. I visited some export agents and exchanged ideas with them.
My Embassy will assist them in our capacity. It will take some time to see a good progress. I am confident that it is a right and potential way for the bilateral cooperation.
Another area is to ensure food security. His Majesty King Tupou VI attaches great importance to food security in Tonga. China achieved the goal of eliminating extreme poverty in China in 2020, which is an enormous achievement under the goals of the UN 2030 sustainable development.
China has gained rich experiences in ensuring food security, especially in agricultural development, which can be applied to Tonga. The agricultural cooperation between our two countries has greatly diversified the everyday food and provided more choices of healthy diet for Tongan people.
The agricultural cooperation has produced substitutes for imported food products, which benefits all families.