Claims by Prime Minister Pohiva Tu‘i‘onetoa that the ruling People’s Party was inspired by the Chinese Communist Party have been condemned by Democrat supporters and community leaders.
Critics have asked why the government of a democratic, Christian nation, appeared to be embracing communism.
The Prime Minister told a function held to mark the 100th anniversary of the CCP that members of his party had drafted their manifesto after a visit to China.
Matangi Tonga reported him as saying “In our Manifesto we described governance in Tonga as a fish. The government and party are the fish’s head and body, the people are the fish tail. The tail controls the head and the body, as well as maintains the direction of the head,” he said. “The fish theory unifies the whole body in driving forward our work. Practice has proven that when you put your people in your heart, your people will in turn will hold you up.” said the chairman Tu‘i‘onetoa.
“We look forward for further on going technical and economic cooperation. Let us also wish great success in marching toward the second centenary goal in building China into a great, modern socialist country.”
His comment has been heavily criticised on social media with many asking why, when Tonga is advocating for democracy and Christian doctrines, the government is supporting a Chinese doctrine that is anti-Christian and anti-democracy.
Staunch Democrat supporter Ikani Taliai described the Prime Minister’s comments as “astounding.”
“This statement – if the reporting is true- highlights a staggering confusion and lacking of mental capacity in the Prime Minister,” Taliai said.
“Prime Minister Tui’i’onetoa stated that he and members of the political party visited China in 2019. They returned to Tonga and based the constitution of PAK on the communist political principles of the Chinese communist political structure.
“Here we are in Tonga advocating for and progressing a structure of democracy to protect the human dignity of all Tongans and the head of this government declares that!
“The Deputy Chairman of PAK who is the Prime Minister’s closest advisor has just been convicted, sentenced, and jailed for one of Tonga’s largest fraud crimes.
“Despite this, the Prime Minister appears to still be advocating for his associate’s freedom. Not only is the Prime Minister fighting against the country’s Judicial system, but he has just declared communist tendencies.
“The remaining Cabinet Ministers are silent. One could draw conclusion they are complicit in the Prime Minister’s authoritarianism.”
Tonga established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1998 and since then has become collaborated with the Asian giant in many areas, including agriculture, infrastructure, education, health, tourism, fisheries and Covid-19.
However, it has also become catastrophically indebted to China and now owes US$115 million.
The late Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who came to power after most of the debt was accumulated, warned that China might seize strategic assets in Tonga or demand other forms of compensation if it could not repay its debts.
In one of his last acts before he died, Pohiva tried unsuccessfully to persuade other Pacific nations to stand up to China over their debts.
In 2019 the then United States ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse Jr., called China’s lending in the Pacific “payday loan diplomacy.”
“The money looks attractive and easy upfront, but you better read the fine print,” he told The Diplomat.
However, China’s ambassador to Tonga at the time, Wang Baodong, said China was the only country willing to help Tonga financially.
Graeme Smith, a specialist in Chinese investment in the Pacific, said Tonga’s financial mismanagement was as much to blame for its financial position.
China’s continued crackdown on Christians in that country has long been a cause of concern in the west. Earlier this year Chinese authorities arrested a Vatican-appointed Catholic bishop, his seven priests and 10 seminarians.
Protestant churches, including so-called house churches, have also come under attack and there have been concerted campaigns against Buddhists in Tibet and Muslims in Xinjiang province.
The Chinese government has attacked democracy several times in the past, calling it divisive and comparing it unfavourably with what is describes as the smooth co-operative political system in China.
Reuters reported that when President Jinping took office in 2014, many Chinese hoped for political reform, but he soon implemented a crackdown on civil society, jailing human rights lawyers and activists who authorities regard as threat to national security and social stability.
Lawyer Nalesoni Tupou in New Zealand said the Prime Minister’s comments were “very sad.”
He said it brought shame on the efforts of people of the past in Tongan history.
Kuo fakahā ‘e he Palēmia ‘o e fonua’ na’e fakalotoa ‘e he’ene paati pule’ ‘a ia ‘oku ‘iloa ko e Tonga’s People Party ‘ehe Paati Kominiusi ‘a Siaina’. Na’a’ ne pehē ne ‘i ai e ni’ihi mā’olunga ‘i he’ene pāti’ ne nau ‘i Siaina ‘i he 2019 ‘o ako ‘i ha’anau tua ne fai pea ‘i he’enau foki mai pe ko ia’ ‘o fa’u e tohi ke ne tataki ‘a e PAK pe manifesto ‘aki e me’a ne nau ma’u mei he Paati Kominiusi ‘a Siaina’. Ko e me’a eni ‘a Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa ‘i Nuku’alofa lolotonga hono faka’ilonga’i ‘o e ta’u 100 ‘a hono pule’i ‘e he Paati Kominiusi’ ‘a Siaina’ hili ‘enau liukava ‘i he 1921. Na’a’ ne pehē ‘oku ‘i ai e fakana’una’u ‘a hono pule’anga’ ki ha ngaahi tokoni faka’ekonōmika mo fakasōsiale ki Tonga ma’a Siaina. Ka kuo fakaanga’i ‘eni ‘e he kau tui Temokalati ‘i Tonga mo ha kau taki komiuniti ‘o makatu’unga he ‘oku fepaki mamahi ‘a e kominiusi mo e lotu Kalisitiane’ mo e tui fakatemokalati kuo tali ‘e he Fale ‘O e Tu’i’ mo e kakai ‘o e fonua’ ke hoko ko ha lotu ia mo ha sisitemi ke fakalele’aki ‘a e pule’anga Tonga’. Ko Siaina ‘oku kei hokohoko atu ‘enau faka’auha ‘a e ngaahi fale lotu Kalisitiane’, puke ‘a e kau taki mo e kau muimui lotu Kalisitiane’ ‘o e fakahū mo fakapoongi he ‘oku ‘ikai ke nau tui ko ha fa’ahinga lotu lelei ia.