China will not pressure Tonga if it is unable to repay its multi million debt, according to the Communist state’s Ambassador Cao Xiaolin.
His comments followed a visit to Tonga at the beginning of June by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Speaking to the Tongan media, Cao said China would not force countries to repay their loans. If Tonga was not able to repay its loan, China would “talk in a friendly way” to find a solution.
Tonga owes China an estimated US$120 million .
Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni has confirmed that he and Wang discussed Tonga’s debt.
Western states have accused Beijing of “debt-trap diplomacy” involving extending concessional loans to poor nations and extracting political concessions in return.
The former Prime Minister, the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva, tried unsuccessfully to have the debt written off. In 2018 he announced that Tonga would begin repaying the debt.
While Leader of the Opposition Pohiva warned that one day China would demand the right to establish a naval base in Tonga as repayment.
Answering a journalist’s question, Cao rejected comparisons with Sri Lanka, where China has taken a 99 year lease on the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka’s south for US$1.1 billion.
This week an Indian analyst accused Beijing of practising debt-trap diplomacy in taking over the port.
The Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka said none of the proceeds from the 2017 deal were used to repay the debt Colombo owed to Beijing.
It said the money was used to pay off Sri Lanka’s foreign debts. None of the money was used to pay Sri Lanka’s $8 billion debt to China.
Ambassador Cao told the assembled journalists that Tonga had benefitted from the Chinse loans.
He said it was good that Tonga had begin to repay the loan, which he said was a sign of the healthy state of the Tongan economy.
The ambassador reiterated what he described as the shared experiences of Tonga and China and said the 800 Chinese living in the kingdom had become part of the society.
On the issue if Taiwan, Ambassador Cao said Tonga had acknowledged that Taiwan was part of China when it opened relationships with China 26 years ago. In return, China would support Tongan territorial integrity.
The ambassador took a swipe at Australia and the United States over their reaction to Solomon Islands signing a security agreement with Beijing.
He said the former British protectorate was now an independent country and any attempt to interfere in its domestic affairs was disrespectful.
He said the Solomons was not anybody’s backyard – a clear reference to Australia – and criticised nations which had tested nuclear weapons in the Pacific, meaning the United States and France.
Objections to the security agreement were not logical. China had the right to make friends with anybody.
He said his country did have no plans to have a military base or troops in the Solomons.
China would continue to defend the rights of Island states, he said.