Tonga and China: Can two clashing systems work in harmony?

Tonga China Student Alumni Association

By Kalafi Moala


Nuku’alofa, Tonga – One of Tonga’s leading diplomats has declared that China is a modern example of superb development that other nations, including Tonga, should learn from. He refers to the “China Model” and wrote that this model “has many universal and global aspects other nations can learn something from.” But how does the “China Model” affect Tonga with its opposing socio-cultural values and Judeo-Christian belief system?

Almost like a testimonial, Col. (Retired) Siamelie Latu says: “I have heard of the idea of the China Model many times. Obviously, the China Model is an uniquely Chinese development model. The model has enabled China to shake off poverty, improve people’s well-being and evolve from an underdeveloped country to a booming economy.”

Col. Siemelie Latu keynote speaker at Tonga-China Student Alumni Association

Col. Latu, former Tongan Ambassador to China, and former Acting Secretary for Foreign Affairs, wrote an apologetic presentation as a reaction to a series of articles ran by the Talaki Online on China. Col. Latu is also the Secretary General of the Tonga China Friendship Association (TCFA), headed by HRH Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita.

The soldier turned diplomat, studied in China, and made study tours to China before he became Tonga’s Ambassador to China from 2010. He admits: “I had deep affection for China even before I was posted to China as Tongan Ambassador. The friendship between our two nations has been moving from strength to strength.”

Arguably he is Tonga’s top China expert, and highly qualified to be one of the key players in negotiating a continuous good relationship for the present and future between the two countries.

Col. Latu’s message on China is not necessarily new as it is the essential content in many books and literature put out by the Chinese Government, this has triggered the public relations (PR) phenomenal growth they’ve experienced over the past four decades.

The statements are factual as China is a modern-day phenomenon in a world that is becoming more dependent on global economic cooperation in order just to survive, let alone experience significant growth.

But it is the untold story of China (at least in Tonga) that Journalist Filo ‘Akau’ola, Editor of Talaki Online, is most concerned about. “I am not against the Chinese people, and I am not questioning China’s phenomenal economic growth. What I am most concerned about is that China is run by a Communist Government that has been in opposition to all that is valuable to a society like Tonga, and other civilized countries who’s fundamental values are Christian.”

“I am a Christian, a Catholic Christian who has been raised in a family that believes in God like most other Tongans. But Communism as represented by the Chinese Communist Party that rules China is opposed to belief in God,” said ‘Akauola. “Christians in China suffer tremendous oppression and persecution from the Chinese Government.”

Filo ‘Akauola, Talaki Online Editor

He is referring of-course to the many years in China, up to now, when the Christians in China have been under severe persecution, driving them to an existence called “the underground church.” He is also referring to the many deaths of persecuted Christians in the hands of the Chinese Government. To put matters in perspective, there have been many more millions of people killed in China because of the totalitarian rule than were the six million Jews killed by the Nazis of Germany.

This is the other side of the story about China. And this is the country and Government that is becoming increasingly involved in the affairs of Tonga, and Tonga is increasingly becoming dependent on Chinese loans and financial assistance.

As an editor, and longtime news reporter in Tonga, ‘Akau’ola decided to put out a series of articles that tell what he calls “the real story behind the stories in China.” These were the articles that Col. Latu and the TCFA became concerned about, claiming that it could negatively affect the harmonious relation Tonga has with China.

Questioning Chinese Communism

But looking at the last fifty plus years since the emergence of China as a nation under Communist rule, the questions loom, what did China sacrifice in order to be the China of today? There may be economic aspects of the development model espoused by China to become a booming economy today. But how can the same China be known for human rights abuses, and the killing of millions of its own people since the Communist Revolution?

Even today, the unrest in Hong Kong because of the clash between the values of communism and democracy is something not to be ignored. And above all, China is known, factually so, as a country where the Christians and the Christian church is currently under severe persecution. There is an estimated 44 million Christians in China today who live under severe oppression and persecution from the CCP (China Communist Party).

‘Akau’ola is concerned that the Communism of Mao Zedong, Lenin, and Stalin which launched the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 is the same Communism that is running China today, and even reaching Tonga, a country that historically have been “living under God.”

“Communism is anti-God, and have one aim, absolute domination!” ‘Akau’ola says.

He raises an issue that is not often talked about and that has to do with who are the leaders in Tonga who are talking to the Chinese, negotiating with them the kind of assistance needed by Tonga? “Much of our relationship and negotiations with China are not transparent,” he says.

“People in Tonga have a voice concerning China, yet our leaders ignore that voice and go ahead with negotiations that benefit China mostly. Is that why we see some of these leaders enjoy a greater degree of wealth by being close friends of the Chinese?”

“We see China’s influence in the UN, in the WHO, and no wonder because we have so many of these developing nations, they help supporting them in these institutions to get whatever they push for.”

‘Akau’ola however is saddened by the fact that when he published the articles on China, the TCFA contacted him and questioned why (and who gave him the information) concerning China that he was publishing? He feels his freedom of speech on an issue so important to the people to know about has been infringed on.

“It is amazing,” he says, “that another Tongan writes and questions me about why am I questioning China, as if I do not have any right to question anything about China.”

He says that Col. Latu wrote him questioning and urging him to stop the critical articles on China. “Why did not the Chinese of the United Front from the Chinese Ambassador’s Office, or the Chinese of the TCF write me? But it is a Tongan writing to another Tongan to oppose me in doing my job. The Chinese are definitely smarter than the Tongans, as they want the Tongans to fight and defend them,” Akau’ola says.

‘Akau’ola is adamant in his stand, that the so-called China Model as espoused by Col. Latu is a model of the CCP that opposes belief in God, advocating totalitarian authority, limitation to private enterprises, the elimination of criticism against CCP, jailing of many people innocent of crimes they are accused of, and the absolute control of everything that happens in China by the CCP.

“While we are trying to make our political reforms work and to ensure good governance, a China Model is being introduced for us ‘to learn from’. There are millions in Venezuela and the surrounding countries that are leaving because of the high cost of communism to their lives; and people are still leaving Communist Cuba to get away from communism. This is the China Model that keeps North Korea poor; and many African nations are complaining of being enslaved by indebtedness to China. Is this the China Model that makes countries like India, Australia, Japan, and America turn from China?”

‘Akau’ola claims there is very little Tongan made or grown products being exported to China, if any, but on the other hand Tonga is flooded by Chinese products, sold cheaply at Chinese stores all over the country.

“Are we going to forget the values and damage communism does to society just so we can get money from China? And are we going to turn way from our traditional development partners we have been with for many years, to succumb to an economic power that will oppress our Christian and social values?” he asks.

‘Akau’ola takes a strong stand that “Whenever a Tongan writes to another Tongan to try and stop his freedom of speech on China, and to defend Chinese interests, then it is time for Tonga to take a closer look into the long term diplomatic relationship we are trying to build with China.”

“Tonga is not blessed because of a China Model, but because we have a national motto, driven by faith, which is ‘God and Tonga are our inheritance’.” “CCP,” says ‘Akau’ola, “is not God, and yet we have given them the place of God so as not to be questioned on anything.”


Col. Latu and the TCFA must be given the understanding they deserve for their role in building a relationship with China that would hopefully benefit both countries as they walk into the future. As a typical effective diplomat, Col. Latu is a pragmatist that is single sighted on the part of economic development and building a system that would eliminate poverty.

But ‘Akau’ola’s concerns and strong warnings need to be taken seriously. Never mind offending the Chinese, and especially CCP. These hardened Communists are used to criticism. They can smile and help you with one hand, while they destroy your beliefs and spirituality with the other. They do not need to be treated with kid’s gloves but with real exchanges and hard negotiations that will not sell the soul of Tonga just so we can have better roads and live in bigger houses.

Diplomatic relationships must be built with consideration not just on the aid Tonga may be able to get, but more importantly because of the socio-cultural values and belief system of Tonga. And that needs to be done without compromise. Tonga must make its domestic policy crystal clear, and, although we may be part of the Global stage, we must put Tonga’s interest and our sovereignty first without apology.



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