An initially positive response to news that the United States was considering building an embassy in Tonga turned skeptical.
US Vice President Kamala Harris made the announcement, among other “re-engagement” pledges for the Pacific region, in a speech via video link with leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum yesterday at the annual meeting of the forum leaders.
RNZ Pacific correspondent in Tonga, Kalafi Moala, said people there now want to know if there will be consular services provided, so they don’t have to travel to Suva to get visas.
China recently completed construction of a large embassy in Nuku’alofa, and Moala said people were asking – via social media and radio – if that was why Washington chose Tonga for the new mission.
“A man on a radio show this morning – raised [the question]: ‘Should the superpowers come and fight their political arm wrestling and their political battles in our own backyard? Why wouldn’t they go somewhere else and do it there?
“So that’s a lot of questions that are starting to come up here in Tonga.”
The United States also announced that it would build an embassy in Kiribati.
Earlier this week, Kiribati opposition leader Tessie Lambourne said Kiribati’s decision to pull out of the Pacific Islands Forum on the eve of its annual summit was prompted by pressure from China.
Former Kiribati President Anote Tong said he suspects Kiribati has an ongoing deal with China that could include exclusive access for Chinese vessels to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area – the largest area designated protected marine in the world.
But this week, China’s foreign ministry denied that Beijing played a role in Kiribati’s withdrawal from the forum.
“For years, China and the PIF have maintained good cooperative relations. I would like to stress that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and hopes to see greater solidarity and closer cooperation among PICs for common development,” he added. said spokesman Wang Wenbin.