FEATURED | The Strategic Importance of Tonga for India

FEATURED | The Strategic Importance of Tonga for India

By Rear Admiral S. Kulshrestha (Retd.)
INDIAN NAVY

FEATURED | The Strategic Importance of Tonga for India

Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, lying about 5,060 km Southeast of Hawaii. It comprises of 177 islands in the central Pacific Ocean covering ~360,700 sq km of ocean with a land area of 699 sq km. The main island groups are Tongatupu, Haíapai, and Vavaíua. It is to the credit of the Kingdom of Tonga that, it is the only monarchy in South Pacific that has never been colonized. The capital of Tonga is Nuku’alofa, which lies on the Tongatupu island chain.

Map Attribute: Australasia (including Polynesian Islands)
Map Attribute: Australasia (including Polynesian Islands)

China and Tonga

It is understood that pro democracy supporters started the riots in the central business district in Nuku’alofa on 16 November 2006. Since a large number of shops destroyed were owned by Chinese origin Tongans, China provided a concessional loan of $118 mn to Tonga. This was followed by military supplies worth Euro 340,000 in 2008.

Two Chinese warships namely a missile frigate "Mianyang" and a training ship “Zhenghe” visited Nukualofa in September 2010. A new Chinese- Tongan bank was also set up in 2013. China also gifted a $15 mn commercial Xian MA60 aircraft to Tonga.

This was followed by the visit of a Chinese Hospital ship “Peace Ark” on a “Harmonious Mission 2014” in Aug 2014. This ship provided consultations, medicines and even carried out complex surgeries for Tongans. As per, commanding officer of the "Harmonious Mission - 2014" Rear Admiral Shen Hao, "The purpose of this tour to Tonga, with the mission of providing medical services, is to carry forward the international humanitarian spirit, strengthen exchanges between the two militaries, and promote the view of harmony".

On the other hand, the Chinese residents have been at the receiving end of the racial attacks. It is said that out of the 3000 to 4000 of them, only about 300 remain, the rest having fled Tonga.
Nevertheless, China continues to make overtures to Tonga.

India and Tonga

Tonga and India have very cordial relationship.

In July 2006, Indian naval ship – INS ‘Tabar’ paid a goodwill visit to Tonga. Late King George Tuopou V visited India in September 2009 on a private visit. Tonga has been provided 15 training slots for 2015-16 under ITEC programme. A small number of Tongan Defence Service personnel have been availing defence training in various training institutions in India. As per the MEA briefing notes, in 2007, India has given a grant-aid of US$ 100,000/- each for construction of access road from Wharf to Hunga village and up-gradation of jetty in Hunga. India has also provided grant-aid of US$ 3,00,000 for Tsunami Alert System in July 2014 and approved grant-aid of US$ 1,15,000 for Project Proposal “Upgrade to the Office of the Public Service Commission ICT Infrastructure” in October 2014.

Tonga delegation was led by the Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano, when Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi hosted the India-Pacific Island Countries Forum Summit in Suva (Fiji) during the visit on 19 November 2014 with the participation of 14 Pacific countries. Some of the announcements made during the summit with respect to Pacific countries (including Tonga) included;

-Setting up of a Special Adaptation Fund of $ 1 million,

- Development of Pan Pacific Islands Project for tele-medicine and tele-education,

-Indian Visa on arrival for Pacific Island Countries .Deputation of ITEC experts to Pacific Island countries, including in the areas of agriculture, health care, and IT,

-Cooperation in the use of Space technology applications for improving the quality of life of people and communications,

-Explore possibilities of sharing data for monitoring climate change, disaster risk reduction, and management and resource management,

-Undertake joint research in traditional medicine; developing health-care facilities for the benefit of people in the region. 

Needless to say, that International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Tonga on 21 June 2015. 

EEZ Resources

Tonga has an EEZ of 676,401 sq Km.

The seabed mineral potential of Tonga is attracting a large number of countries who intend to carry out exploration to assess the mining potential of the ‘sea floor massive sulphide’ deposits, which could yield significant amount of metals like gold, silver, copper and zinc.

Tonga is the first country in the world to promulgate Seabed Minerals Act in 2014 to manage seabed mineral activities in its territorial waters as well as its EEZ. The Act emphasizes the protection and preservation of the marine environment as well as the need to balance economic development for the people of Tonga against conservation of the biodiversity of the oceans. India can gain from this in framing its own deep sea mining regulations.

Way Ahead

It appears that Tongans believe India should look at South Pacific Ocean as a strategic interlink to the Indian Ocean and not as a peripheral appendage. Tongans apparently resent being seen via Fiji and Australia in the strategic scheme of power projection. They would prefer to be dealt with as an independent strategic partner along with other smaller nations in the South Pacific Ocean.

India has put in place a comprehensive framework for future cooperation in the South Pacific, the need now is to accelerate the collaboration in the areas of communications, climate change monitoring, fisheries, ocean sciences and technology.


It has been nearly 35 years since a Indian Prime Minister visited Tonga probably it is time now to take the relationship with Tonga to a higher echelon and also peg smaller South Pacific Nations as strategic allies.

About The Author:

The author RADM Dr. S. Kulshrestha (Retd.), INDIAN NAVY, holds expertise in quality assurance of naval armament and ammunition. He is an alumnus of the National Defence College and a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He superannuated from the post of Director General Naval Armament Inspection in 2011. He is unaffiliated and writes in defence journals on issues related to Armament technology and indigenisation.

Cite This Article:

Kulshrestha, Sanatan. "FEATURED | The Strategic Importance of Tonga for India" IndraStra Global 02, no. 02 (2016): 0031. http://www.indrastra.com/2016/02/FEATURED-Strategic-Importance-of-Tonga-for-India-002-02-2016-0031.html 

AIDN0020220160031 / INDRASTRA / ISSN 2381-3652
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