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New US Embassy Opens in Tonga during Blinken’s Historic Visit

Asia The Pacific

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited the Kingdom of Tonga on July 26, 2023, to dedicate the new United States’ Embassy and discuss key areas of partnership. The opening of the new embassy in Tonga is part of a larger strategy that will strengthen partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to defend against security threats and advance a more resilient Indo-Pacific. The United States and Tonga will strengthen cooperation on global environmental issues, trade, and investments, and promote democracy in the region.

During the meeting, Secretary Blinken and Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku reaffirmed both nations’ commitment to tackling climate change through educational programs and by utilizing the Pacific 2050 Strategy. The climate crisis is of great concern to Tonga, where the vast majority of residents live on coastalines which are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Tonga is ranked as the third “most at risk” country to climate change according to the United Nations.

The dedication of a new embassy in the Kingdom of Tonga and the return of Peace Corps volunteers to the island nation marks the beginning of a stronger partnership with the United States on environmental and security threats. The increased diplomatic and developmental presence in the region is also utilized by the United States to counteract China’s growing engagement in the region.

The Kingdom of Tonga and the United States have had over fifty years of diplomatic relations and have strengthened cooperation over security and trade over the past two decades. Tonga’s economy is heavily dependent on remittances sent from family members abroad with many living in the United States. While the Tongan islands’ population is around one hundred thousand, more than sixty-seven thousand people with Tongan ancestry reside in the United States, largely in California, Utah, and Hawai’i. Since Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which loosened immigration restrictions on non-European immigrants, there has been increased immigration to the United States particularly in the 1980s when nearly two thousand Tongans were leaving the Kingdom of Tonga each year.

After the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai eruption and tsunami in January 2022, Tongan American leaders and organizations reached out to the White House to assist the US government when it provided over $2.6 million dollars through USAID to support humanitarian assistance to Tongans. During Blinken’s visit, Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku requested that Secretary Blinken accelerate the new visa-processing center in Nuku’alofa to lessen the strain put on Tongan families attempting to migrate.

The Kingdom of Tonga has a history of security cooperation with the United States which began during World War II when the nation hosted United States’ military forces and has continued its support of US troops by deploying contingents of soldiers to Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2010.

Secretary Blinken’s historic visit and the dedication of a new embassy signifies both governments’ commitment to strengthening relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Tonga.

Jordan Cheney is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington DC. She recently graduated from American University with a Bachelor's in Political Science specializing in comparative politics and a minor in Asia, Pacific, and Diaspora Studies.