Led by the Parliamentary Speaker, Lord Fakafanua, the delegation held talks with Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the NPC's standing committee, and a man at the heart of the leadership transition.
Clerk of the House, Sione Tekiteki, who was also part of the Tongan mission, says the meeting demonstrates that Tonga's diplomatic ties with China have come a long way since they were first established in 1998.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Sione Tekiteki, Clerk of the House in Tongan Parliament
TEKITEKI: I know for a fact that the Speaker was very honoured, that Mr Bangguo took the time to address the delegation and it was also a very fruitful meeting.
EWART: When you say fruitful, how do you see that meeting as it were benefitting Tonga in future?
TEKITEKI: Mr Wu Bangguo emphasised the need to further advance bilateral cooperation between China and Tonga. He also mentioned that it's very important to maintain high level exchanges between the respective legislatures of the two countries and from Tonga's perspective we were quite keen to raise areas of mutual cooperation for the future, aquaculture and other areas which we thought could be beneficial for both parties, such as tourism and so forth.
EWART: Do you see the continuing relationship with China being important from an economic sense? Is China minded to help Tonga further in terms of development plans?
TEKITEKI: Yes there was what was discussed incorporating more in an economic sense and exploring other areas which could be beneficial for both countries.
EWART: One of the issues which has come to the fore in just the last couple of weeks is Tonga's hosting of the Pacific Games having won the right to do that in 2019. And my understanding is that China will be crucial to the success of that event. Was that discussed at all while you were over there in terms of how they can help?
TEKITEKI: Not specifically because the delegation was tentative of raising things from a parliamentary visit that should come through the proper government and diplomatic channels. So in a general sense it was raised that there are a lot of areas that we could explore but there was no mention of any specific areas so to speak because we are aware that there's various government channels which is handling those sorts of things.
EWART: We are about to see a change at the top in China during the course of the next few days. Can you see that situation impacting at all on Tonga's relationship with China, or would you say that the foundations are very well established now?
TEKITEKI: What we were led to believe so today is the transition would be smooth so we cannot see any impact at all. If anything we think that the leadership change could open up more doors in terms of cooperation.
EWART: You talked about building the bilateral relationship in the future. Has anything been firmed up in terms of for example Chinese visits to Tonga in the future?
TEKITEKI: That's something that still needs to be confirmed, but the Speaker did invite Chinese delegation to visit Tonga in the future. But the specific dates and the specific time and whether they would have that, all the details still need to be ironed out.
EWART: And from China's perspective why are they so keen to build the relationship with Tonga? I mean in short what's in it for them?
TEKITEKI: I'm not sure. I would think that Tonga does have a lot to offer, perhaps in sectors such as fisheries, perhaps in tourism, perhaps in aquaculture, perhaps from international perspective, perhaps there's something there. But perhaps that question is not really for me to divulge.
EWART: Is there any concern at all within Tonga that you're closely allying yourself to China and the debate going on at the moment about how China sits in the Pacific and how the United States sits in the Pacific that you could find yourselves caught in the middle, or essentially are you just concerned about putting Tonga's interests first?
TEKITEKI: That's a side issue, it's certainly not something that the delegation considered and certainly discussed when we were over there. Basically the whole purpose of the visit was to explore areas of further mutual cooperation, and also at the same time for parliamentarians who've never been to China to visit and learn more about China. I know for a fact that some of the members were very interested and the poverty alleviation initiatives that are currently happening in China in terms of their villages. And it was something which they thought that Tonga could look at exploring and look at adopting to assist farmers. Look to me I think that's a side issue, it obviously will need to be looked at but it was certainly wasn't something that the delegation was discussing when we were over there.
EWART: And just to pick up on that point that you made about poverty alleviation schemes. This presumably could be part of taking the relationship forward, that you could to some extent copy what the Chinese are doing with their assistance?
TEKITEKI: Not so much copy but to get ideas and try to implement it in Tonga using Tongan characteristics. And it's very interesting what they're doing over there and how they're building the grassroot level.
EWART: And what impression did China leave on you personally?
TEKITEKI: I would say planned, everything seemed very planned, everything seemed very organised and that's something which I think we here in Tonga can perhaps learn from.