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Valuing Education: The role of soft power in Chinese engagement with Tonga

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posted on 2021-11-14, 00:31 authored by Gibbons, Regan Priestley

The bilateral relationship between China and Tonga has existed for almost fifteen years, expanding from an initially limited scope to encompass trade, education, tourism, culture and defence. While China has rapidly expanded its official relationship with Tonga, this expansion has created tensions within Tongan society generated by fears of Chinese immigrants taking jobs and businesses. These tensions boiled over in 2006, as Tongans rioted in the capital Nuku’alofa against Chinese shopkeepers over perceived unfair competition. The aftermath of the Nuku’alofa riots has seen an increasing awareness from China of the need to educate Tongans to its presence in their country, and its goals on the world stage. This new awareness has resulted in China adopting a number of approaches to educate Tongans as part of its expanding engagement. Education has become a central plank of this new-found education campaign, with China introducing several programmes to expose Tongan students to its culture and values, including scholarships for tertiary students to study within China. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the correlation between China’s increasing political and economic engagement with Tonga, and the increasing use of education programmes such as scholarships to educate Tongans about China and its culture and values. To accomplish this, the political and economic ties between China and Tonga will be analysed, as will the soft power initiatives that China has undertaken. These will then be analysed to test whether or not the increase in soft power initiatives is due to the expansion of political and economic ties between the two countries. This will allow the use of soft power by China in Tonga to be compared to the trends evident in other South Pacific states, to determine whether Tonga is a unique case or whether China is undertaking these policies across the region.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

940304 Understanding International Relations

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Lanteigne, Marc