WELLINGTON – China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Tonga on Tuesday as he continued his regional island-hopping tour a day after failing to ink an ambitious deal with 10 South Pacific nations.
While Wang didn't manage to get consensus on the multilateral security and economic plan at a meeting in Fiji after several nations voiced concerns, he has been notching up smaller wins by signing bilateral agreements with the countries he's been visiting, and he signed more deals in Tonga.
His tour comes amid growing international concerns about Beijing’s military and financial ambitions in the region.
Tonga is continuing to recover from a massive volcanic eruption and tsunami in January which killed three people locally and destroyed hundreds of homes. The tsunami also cut the nation's internet connection to the rest of the world when it severed an undersea cable which took five weeks to repair.
In Tonga, Wang met with King Tupou VI and Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni and signed several agreements with Sovaleni that covered everything from disaster management to a royal tomb improvement project.
Chinese Ambassador Cao Xiaolin said in a statement the two countries already had close ties in a number of areas including trade, infrastructure and clean energy. He said China had provided various training programs to about 1,200 Tongan government officials and people.
“The relationship between China and Tonga is a shining pearl,” the ambassador said in his statement.
Tonga's government said the two sides had “fruitful talks” and thanked China for sending two military planes and two naval ships to deliver supplies after the tsunami.
Wang's tour is causing consternation among some Western nations that see themselves as traditional partners with the South Pacific. Australia last week sent new Foreign Minister Penny Wong to Fiji in an attempt at counter-diplomacy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech last week that China posed an even more serious long-term threat than Russia.
“China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order — and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” he said.
At a news conference Monday in Fiji, Wang said China had long championed developing nations both in the Pacific and around the world, addressing how “some have been questioning why China has been so active in supporting Pacific Island countries.”
“My advice for those people is: Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous,” Wang said.