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Federated States of Tonga

Tonga claims to have the world's highest number of PhDs per capita; most of them don't live there. Its major problem is the royal family who have purloined most of the kingdom's assets. Any carpetbagger with a scheme - turning sea water into natural gas or investing in Nevada insurance - is welcome.

The word Tonga means "south" in many Polynesian languages. Tonga remains the only monarchy in the Pacific. Tonga - unique among Pacific nations - never completely lost its indigenous governance. The archipelagos of "The Friendly Islands" were united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900; it withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. Known as ‘The Friendly Islands’, it comprises 172 islands (36 inhabited; some coral and some volcanic, four with active volcanoes) and straddles the international date line.

Tonga's record as regards human rights has been viewed as good. Tonga became the first Pacific Island country to take part in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process in May 2008. The United Nations Universal Periodic Review Working Group adopted Tonga’s Report on the 19 May 2008, in which Tonga committed itself to accede to core human rights conventions and treaties.

For most of the 20th century Tonga was quiet, inward-looking, and somewhat isolated from developments elsewhere in the world. The Tongans, as a whole, continue to cling to many of their old traditions, including a respect for the nobility. However, an increasingly popular pro-democracy movement is articulating a rising demand for more rights for the common people and curbs to the influence of the nobility.

Tonga's complex social structure is essentially broken into three tiers: the king, the nobles, and the commoners. Between the king, nobles, and commoners are matapule, sometimes called "talking chiefs," who are allied with the king or a noble, and who may also hold estates. Obligations and responsibilities among the groups are reciprocal, and although the nobility are able to extract favors from people living on their estates, they likewise must extend favors to their people. Status and rank play a powerful role in personal relationships, even within families.

Tongans are beginning to confront the problem of how to preserve their cultural identity and traditions in the wake of the increasing impact of Western technology and culture. Migration and the gradual monetization of the economy have led to the breakdown of the traditional extended family. Some of the poor, traditionally cared for by the extended family, are now being left without visible means of support. The rapidly increasing population is already too great to provide the constitutionally mandated 8.25-acre plot of land or ‘api tukuhau due each male at age 16.

Population density reached 132 persons per square kilometer in 2002, fueling the growing population shift from farm and village to urban centers, where traditional societal and political structures are undergoing steady change. Increasing educational opportunities, expanded media penetration and foreign influences via the country's extensive diaspora have raised the political awareness of Tonga's commoners and stimulated dissent against the system of government. In the past 2 decades, calls for political reform have gained wide-ranging support and momentum.

In November 2006, days of political demonstrations deteriorated into a riot, leaving the central business district of Nuku'alofa in ruins. The government declared a state of emergency to restore law and order to the capital.

Tonga’s financial reliance on China dates back just over a decade to after the deadly 2006 riots in the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, destroyed much of the small Pacific nation’s central business and government districts. The Government rebuilt the city, in part, with Chinese financing provided in 2008 and 2010, and the roughly $90 million in China’s initial loans to the island now totals about $160 million, due to interest and additional borrowing. This figure represents almost one-third of Tonga’s annual gross domestic product, budget papers show. Mr Pohiva has been asking China to write off the debt for months, telling the ABC in August 2018 the country was in “debt distress” and urging Pacific island leaders to collectively urge Beijing to waive repayments.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2018 12:18:00 ZULU