Biddings to delay Chinese loan payback is government’s job, PM’s Office says

Ko e fatongia ki hono alea'i kole ke toloi ha nō 'a e pule'anga' 'oku 'a e pule'anga' pe ia. Na'e kamata mai pe ia 'e he pule'anga 'o Looti Tu'ivakanoo' pea hoko mai ai pe 'eni ki he pule'anga 'o 'Akilisi Pōhiva', fakatatau ki he 'Ōfisi 'o e Palēmia'

The effort to persuade the Chinese government to defer Tonga’s loan repayments has been a government responsibility, the Prime Minister’s Office has said.

Tonga first asked for a deferment of the repayment was when Lord Tu’ivakanō and his government came into power in 2010.

Earlier this month the Minister of Finance Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa has signed another agreement with the Chinese authority during APEC meeting in PNG to defer the repayments for another five years.

Tonga’s preference was to have the loan written off, but this had not been possible so far, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson, Lōpeti Senituli, told Kaniva news.

Senituli said Tonga has already started repaying the interest of the concessional loans.

“The Chinese Government on its part has been magnanimous in deferring payment of the principal for another five years,” he said.

As Kaniva news reported,  the Tongan government and China have just signed the Belt and Road initiative.

When the signing was announced it was reported that China had delayed Tonga’s loan repayments.

Senituli said there had been no linkage of the signing to the quest for reprieve on the loan repayments.

“There was no conditionalities on our signing of the MOU on BRI,” he said.

Heated debates 

Senituli’s response came after the deferment of the loan became a topic of heated discussion on social media with the government’s critics attributing the move to the king.

The ascription was made as a part of an ongoing political feud on Facebook which saw the PM Pōhiva supporters and their critics quarrel from time to time.

The news of the loan repayments delay was first reported by international news media about a week ago.

Reuters and the Australian Broadcasting Corperation accompanied their stories with a photo of King Tupou VI and Chinese president Xi Jinping with a caption which said: “King Tupou VI, left, of Tonga shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, March 1, 2018.”

Although there was nothing in those articles to say that the deferment was made because of  negotiations between the king and the Chinese authorities, the anti-government supporters insisted that it was the king, not Prime Minister Pohiva, who was responsible for the deferment.

Some government supporters said it did not make sense for the king to negotiate with the Chinese authorities about Tonga’s loan repayments because it was an executive matter that could only be dealt with by the government.

Attack on Kaniva news

Kaniva news republished the Reuters article, but instead of using the photo of the king and Chinese president it used a photo of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the Chinese ambassador in Tonga.

Once our article was shared on Facebook it was attacked by some anti-goverment supporters.

They alleged that we were lying, implying that they believed the photo of the king and Chinese president used by Reuters and other international news media meant it was the king who made the deal to defer the loan.

However Senituli said: “The quest for a reprieve had been ongoing from Prime Minister Tu’ivakano’s  time and now to the current Prime Minister.”

The Minister of Finance Hon Tu’i’onetoa said: “I signed at Port Moresby, PNG, the deferment of the repayment of the principal of the above loan with the representative of the Exim Bank of China, as Minister of Finance on behalf of Government of Tonga, during our visit with the Prime Minister, Samuela Akilisi Pohiva, to PNG for the APEC meeting.”

Editor’s comments:

Our readers should note that our information came from the Prime Minister’s office. No one who has attacked Kaniva and claimed it was the king who made the deal to defer the loan has provided evidence or a reliable source to prove their claim.

It is understood, the king was in China for about a week in February. He was invited by President Xi to mark 20 years since the two countries established diplomatic ties.

The main points

  • The effort to persuade the Chinese government to defer Tonga’s loan repayments has been a government’s responsibiliy, the Prime Minister’s Office has said.
  • The first time Tonga asked for a deferement of the repayment was when Lord Tu’ivakano and his government came into power in 2010.

For more information

Tonga gets five years’ grace on Chinese loan as Pacific nation joins Belt and Road initiative

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