Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 10:47 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 10:47 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Responding to China


Fergus Hanson


27 November 2009 09:37

Reader Paul Cotton writes in with this reply to my post on China's engagement with East Timor.

How calmly events such as this are taken these days.

I well recall in 1976 a new Soviet Ambassador (resident in Wellington) presented his credentials to the King of Tonga. The Tonga Chronicle (the weekly Nuku’alofa paper) soon reported that the Ambassador had expressed a desire to set up a base for the Soviet fishing fleet in the Kingdom complete with refuelling and repair facilities. His Majesty, who would have written the article, was apparently “considering the request”.

The paper reached Wellington, London and Washington about the same time as it reached me in Apia from where I was cross accredited to the Kingdom. The possibility of a Soviet base in the South Pacific stirred every dovecote and the decision was taken that the King must be “spoken to” right away if not sooner.

But the British High Commissioner to the Kingdom, Humphrey Arthington Davy, was away on leave and the only other diplomatic representative in Nuku’alofa was from Taiwan.

It seemed that as the SOLE diplomatic representative to Western Samoa (this was before any other country was there) I was the nearest representative of the West in the whole Pacific . So I was instructed by a most urgent and most secret cable to go directly to Tonga and do the needful. Within a day or so one of Polynesian Airlines two 748s, either Pili or Losi, was scheduled on the Apia-Nuku’alofa run and I was on board.

We crossed the dateline and already it was yesterday so I was making good time. I’d phoned for an appointment at the Palace and soon was with His Majesty. There is no need to go through the ins and outs of the conversation. Suffice to say that peace in the South Pacific was maintained and His Majesty undertook to consult with us before taking the matter any further with the Soviets.

The next issue of the Tonga Chronicle reported my visit and announced that I (or New Zealand) had agreed with a proposal to increase Tonga’s tourist potential by providing lighting for the Tonga International Airport that up till now had closed when the sun went down. This was NOT what I had agreed to but for the rest of my career I was never trusted by the NZ Treasury who of course had been planning for years of pre-feasibility studies before ever looking at such a daring proposal.

And today the Chinese and the East Timorese can discuss the establishment of a naval base directly under the nose of a full diplomatic corps in Dili and no one seems the least concerned. Or at least they’re not telling us. And these clapped out Chinese patrol boats! Where are the standard issue Australian patrol boats supplied with independence to each and every Pacific state?.

Times have changed…probably much for the best.