New Zealand and Tonga are reconnecting and strengthening ties, while acknowledging the need to be united as a Pacific region in response to the many challenges we face.

In Nuku’alofa Thursday,Tonga’s Prime Minister and New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister agreed that defence cooperation remains strong

During a joint press conference with Prime Minister, Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni, the visiting New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, said the point of their mission really is to reconnect and strengthen the partnership, and acknowledge the strength of the relationship between Aotearoa New Zealand and Tonga.

“This is certainly an opportunity for us to continue growing that partnership and strengthening it even further.

“We have shared challenges as a region and that was as much of what was discussed today.

“We know that we need to be united as a Pacific region in response to the many challenges that we face, whether that be the challenge of climate change, the challenge of cost of living, the challenge in regards to fisheries or any other challenges that we face together. Today, speaking with the Prime Minister and the Ministers was an opportunity to discuss some of those issues.

“We look forward to continuing this relationship and working together in response to those challenges.”

In addition to acknowleging her Tongan ancestry, Seupuloni said it makes it even more special to be in Tonga as Deputy Prime Minister.

“This serves as a reminder of the migrant stream to New Zealand and what is possible, with many of our parents and grandparents coming over working very hard jobs with aspirations for their children to be able to no longer work on the factory floors but in positions of influence and leadership like this one. So, I acknowledge our parents and our grandparents and I acknowledge my Tongan ancestry.”

“In addition, it is even more special to come as a Deputy Prime Minister and the first person to be elected to it in New Zealand, who is Tongan,” said Sepuloni.

At the same time, Hu‘akavameiliku said Tonga and New Zealand’s relations remain strong.

He said bilateral discussions were held between Cabinet and Sepuloni’s delegation, where they confirmed that both countries need each other for mutual cooperation development.

“Our discussions this morning covered a wide range of issues that are important for both Tonga and New Zealand. I thanked the Hon Deputy Prime Minister for the ongoing bilateral assistance from New Zealand that continue to be a boon to our development, with funding flowing into priority areas of strengthening economic development, law and justice and education.”

“We delved into ways we can strengthen our climate advocacy to amplify the leadership our Pacific Islands have made on the international stage. We agreed that our defence cooperation remains strong.

“Our bilateral relations are important and I asked the Deputy Prime Minister for her continued assistance towards Tonga’s development priority areas.”

The PM said they also discussed developments in the region and internationally and how we can make use of the opportunities presented by our regional context, and how we must work together to tackle the shared challenges we face.

2With our borders finally open we look forward for ore high-level visits between our two countries and to strengthen the long-standing and friendly relations that we build over the years.”

Hu’akavameiliku said it was also a pleasure to welcome Sepuloni.

“This a great reminder of the heights our people can achieve. It also reminds us that Aotearoa New Zealand is country that values the Pacific and the Pacific people. In saying this we are very pleased and proud to welcome back home a daughter of Tonga. Tonga and New Zealand we have shared history bound by our cultural links through our Polynesian heritage.

“Tonga and New Zealand are inextricably linked. We have a shared history, bound by our cultural and ancestral links through our Polynesian heritage, our countries are connected by the Blue Pacific Ocean and we share common values of mutual respect, friendship, collective ambition and sustainability.”

On other issues, including talks to have separate tuition fees for Pacific university students in New Zealand where they face high fees as international students, Sepuloni said this issue was raised by Hu’akavameiliku.

“We had had discussion on it,” she said.

“I did mention to the Prime Minister that it was an issue for the Minister of Education in New Zealand who was taking a way to look at it. Certainly no answer or feedback yet from the Minister of Education. But it was raised by the Tongan Prime Minister with her and she said that she will look into it.”

On the possibility of having a reciprocal visa waivers for the people of Forum member countries, Hon. Sepuloni said brief discussion was held with the PM.

“There are the multi-year visas that diplomats, politicians and I think some people can access…that recognise that those people have to travel quite regularly. There is the ability for them to get multi-year visas. But there is no intention at this point in time to offer up any visa waver overall,” she said.

On climate change, Sepuloni said they had already announced $1.3 billion dollars through their Climate Change Fund and have committed 50 percent to Pacific Islands.

“We are very clear that we need to work closely with Pacific Islands to ascertain how to best that money could be utilised. I am a strong believer that the Pacific people know what the right investments are in regards to mitigation and adaption,” she said.

Sepuloni and her delegation are on the last leg of their Pacific Mission 2023. They made site visits to re-settlements, schools, economic sites and also planted trees in a climate resilience programme, on Ha’atafu Beach in the western district, that was affected by last year’s volcanic eruption and ensuing tsunamis.