China's largesse in Tonga threatens future of Pacific nation

In this April 8, 2019, photo, a Chinese flag flies outside the Chinese Embassy in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. China is pouring billions of dollars in aid and l...
In this Wednesday, April 10, 2019, photo, a security guard walks amongst the ruins of the Tonga's historic Parliament House destroyed last year in Cyc...

In this April 8, 2019, photo, a Chinese flag flies outside the Chinese Embassy in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. China is pouring billions of dollars in aid and l...

In this Wednesday, April 10, 2019, photo, a security guard walks amongst the ruins of the Tonga's historic Parliament House destroyed last year in Cyc...

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (AP) — The days unfold at a leisurely pace in Tonga, a South Pacific archipelago with no traffic lights or fast-food chains.

Yet even in this far-flung island kingdom there are signs a battle for power and influence is escalating among much larger nations — and Tonga may pay the price.

In the capital, Nuku'alofa, government officials work in a shiny new office block — an $11 million gift from China rivaled in grandeur only by China's imposing new embassy complex. Bureaucrats take all-expenses-paid training trips to Beijing each year.

China also offered low-interest loans after pro-democracy rioters destroyed much of downtown Nuku'alofa in 2006; those loans could prove Tonga's undoing. The country of 106,000 people owes some $108 million to China's Export-Import bank, equivalent to about 25% of GDP.