SUVA (9 NEWS/AAP)—Australia’s stumbling aid mission to Tonga – hit by a power outage and coronavirus outbreak aboard a navy warship delivering supplies – risks being overshadowed by Chinese relief efforts.
Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands Programme at Australia’s Lowy Institute, spoke with NIne.com.au as Tonga announced a COVID-19 lockdown.
Dr Pryke said that a failure of electrical generation systems aboard the HMAS Adelaide had been a major setback for Australia’s aid effort.
Civilian technicians have arrived in Tonga to assess systems on Australia’s biggest warship after it suffered an outage while shipping vital aid when the region was hit by a destructive underwater volcano eruption.
“The Adelaide deployment has been something of a disaster for Australia … but the Tonga government is sympathetic … it knows Australia is trying its best,” Dr Pryke said.
It comes as Chinese aid continues to arrive in Tonga delivered by ships and military aircraft.
Dr Pryke said the arrival of Chinese aid on Tonga helped boost its soft power status in the Pacific.
“They were able to load up some fishing vessels from Fiji and deliver some aid by plane to Tonga.”
China media outlet Global Times reported that a second batch of disaster relief aid arrived in Tonga aboard two Chinese navy ships on Monday.
“The navy is fully prepared for all scenarios and the task demonstrated China’s commitment and capacity,” states the state-controlled Global Times said.
Tonga – one of the Pacific’s poorest nations – is in heavy debt to Beijing after Chinese loans helped rebuild the country after rioting and unrest there in 2006.
Tonga still owes US$150 million to China, the equivalent to about 25 percent of its gross domestic product.
The Adelaide outage is the second setback for the Australian aid mission after last month’s devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.
Last month 23 people aboard the naval ship tested positive for coronavirus.
Foreign nations have been lining up to deliver aid, with ships and planes arriving from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and China….PACNEWS