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International relations

Tonga to ask China to write off $100m in debt

Prime minister calls on South Pacific neighbors to sign petition

Tonga's King Tupou VI, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in March.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- The southern Pacific island state of Tonga will ask China to forgive its debt, and urge neighboring countries to sign a joint petition for the write-off.

Prime Minister Samiuela Akilisi Pohiva's decision was reported on Tuesday by local media outlets. The country, comprising 170 islands in the southern Pacific, owes more than $100 million to China -- around a third of its gross domestic product.

Beijing extended loans for infrastructure to Tonga following riots that shook its capital city in 2006. The debt has only kept growing since. Spending to rebuild, following a massive cyclone this past February, has further worsened Tonga's fiscal health.

Pohiva plans to make this a topic at the Pacific Islands Forum in September, and will encourage other countries in similar situations to sign a joint request for debt forgiveness.

As China gains influence over southern Pacific islands states, Australia and other countries have expressed concern.

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