By Philip Cass in Auckland
“Tonga does not interfere in other nations’ own affairs.”
That was the carefully measured response from Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa to the report that senior officials from Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department are investigating the concept of a “grand compact” with some small Pacific nations, including Tonga.
The suggestion over a compact is seen in some circles as a way of curbing the growth of Chinese power in the region.
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Under the proposal, Australia would allow permanent residency or even citizenship for people from Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga and Nauru in return for Australia managing their resources.
A number of independent Pacific island states are already in compacts of free associations with larger countries.
In Micronesia, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have a Compact of Free Association with the United States.
The governments of these nations consult with the US on foreign affairs issues. Washington also has “full authority and responsibility for security and defence matters” in return for US government services, the opportunity for Pacific Islanders to work in the US, and annual grants.
The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for their foreign affairs and defence.
The proposal for an Australian compact has been floated in different forms over recent years and has met with a mixed response.
As Kaniva News reported, former Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga described it as outdated “imperial thinking”.
Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva News yesterday: “Tonga is friends with every country in the world.
“It does not oppose any country.
“That was a traditional position of Tonga in terms of international diplomatic relations. Tonga does not interfere in other nations’ own affairs.”
Tonga only Pacific country not colonised
Tonga is the only Pacific nation not to have been colonised. As a series of historical features in Kaniva News showed earlier this year, the country’s rulers fought hard to keep from being overwhelmed by Britain’s offers of friendship.
However, not all politicians from the countries listed as possible compact partners have rejected it.
Kiribati’s former President Anote Tong said the proposal would be difficult for small island countries to turn down.
But he warned that the proposal would only work if Islanders did not see it as an attempt to recolonise their countries.
Philip Cass is a research associate of the Pacific Media Centre and an adviser on Kaniva News. The centre republishes Kaniva News items in collaboration.