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PM dismisses Tonga’s $150m debt to China while Blinken criticises Beijing’s behaviour

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has criticised what he called China’s “predatory” economic policies in the Pacific, but Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said he was not concerned about Tonga’s debt to China.

Tonga owes $150 million to China, the equivalent of about 25 per cent of its gross domestic product.

Hon. Sovaleni said he was not concerned about the large amount of money his country had borrowed from China and that Tonga had started to pay back the debt.

Blinken met with the Prime Minister other officials to discuss the bilateral relationship as well as regional and global issues, said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

“President Biden is fully committed to working with Tonga, and with all Pacific Islands, to usher in an era of even closer collaboration to deliver on the issues that matter most to our people — rooted in mutual respect and mutual trust,” Blinken said.

The Prime Minister described Secretary Blinken’s visit as “historic.”

“It is the first visit by a sitting US Secretary of State to Tonga and the highest level visit we have received from the United States in our recent history,” he added.

“It is a clear indication to us of the desire and commitment by the United States to strengthen our relations. The United States and Kingdom of Tonga share a long-standing history and enduring partnership.”

Blinken said the United States did not object to nations in the region engaging with other countries, including China, but that there were concerns over Beijing’s “increasingly problematic behaviour.”

He accused China of asserting unlawful maritime claims, militarisation and investments that could undermine good governance and promote corruption.

Blinken also praised the return of Peace Corps volunteers, who left the island because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the opening of the US embassy underlined the strength of America’s commitment to the people of Tonga.

The embassy would allow Washington to deploy additional diplomatic personnel and resources, including the potential appointment of a resident ambassador to Tonga.

The United States has had diplomatic relations with the kingdom since 1972.

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