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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visits Tonga, says ‘aid from Beijing comes with strings attached’


Following the United States’s move to open an embassy in the Pacific island nation of Tonga on May 9, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged to support Pacific countries, reiterating a warning about the perils of  ‘predatory’ Chinese investment, reported Al Jazeera. As Washington increases its efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region, Blinken visited the capital Nuku’alofa on Wednesday, making it the first US Secretary of State to pay an official visit to Tonga. While pledging support for important projects, Blinken said, “We’re a Pacific nation. We very much see the future in the Indo-Pacific region. We really understand what is a priority for the people here,” he said, citing issues like climate change, development and illegal fishing. There is a long list of things that we are working on together, but it’s all driven by focusing on what’s concrete, what can really make a difference in people’s lives,” Blinken added. However, Blinken also warned about getting aid from Beijing saying that it often comes with strings attached, reported Al Jazeera. As China’s engagement in the region has grown, there has been some from our perspective increasingly problematic behaviour,” Blinken said.

Shared respect for democracy

He further claimed that China had been behind “some predatory economic activities and also investments that are done in a way that can actually undermine good governance and promote corruption.” However, Tongan Prime Minister Hu Takavemeiliku Siaosi Sovaleni, while welcoming a “shared respect for democracy, rule of law and the rights and freedoms of others, said, “His presence here today is a testament to the fact that our partnership is growing from strength to strength.” Tonga is a nation of 171 islands in the South Pacific about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book, reported Al Jazeera. It is a Polynesian archipelago of about 100,000 people and is the latest in a string of Pacific island states being targeted in a renewed US diplomatic push.

The country is considered upper-income for Pacific Island nations, but much of its wealth comes from remittances from the overseas diaspora, according to the CIA, which also notes it is seeing “rapidly growing Chinese infrastructure investments.” After the visit to Tonga, Blinken will leave for Wellington, New Zealand, where he will attend the Women’s World Cup match between the US and the Netherlands. Moreover, he will also have meetings with New Zealand officials. Following his visit to New Zealand, Blinken will move to Brisbane, Australia to hold meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Australian counterparts on July 28-29, according to Al Jazeera. This official visit to Tonga marks Blinken’s third trip to the Asia-Pacific in the past two months, following a visit to China last month and a visit to Indonesia for talks with Southeast Asian officials last week. His visit is followed by the State Department’s message to the Congress about its plan to increase diplomatic personnel and spending for facilities at new US embassies in the Pacific islands, reported Al Jazeera.

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