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Tonga’s prime minister says he’s open to Chinese help with security support at an upcoming summit

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Tonga’s prime minister said on Thursday he is open to Beijing’s offer of security support when the South Pacific kingdom hosts a major regional leaders’ summit, raising concerns in the United States as it strives to counter China’s growing influence.

Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said there was nothing to fear from China’s offer to help Tonga host leaders of the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum in August, despite the United States urging regional nations not to strike security pacts with Beijing.

“There’s no reason to be concerned. China is offering to assist with the hosting of the foreign leaders’ meeting,” Sovaleni told reporters in the Tongan capital Nukuʻalofa.

“If it’s training and if the (Tonga) police deem it to be necessary, of course we will take up the offer,” Sovaleni added, addressing an Australian government fear that authoritarian Chinese policing methods could take hold in the Pacific.

The United States and its most important South Pacific ally, Australia, have been working to strengthen ties in the region since Beijing struck a security pact in 2022 that raised fears of the Solomon Islands hosting a Chinese naval base.

China has since been rebuffed in its attempt to encompass 10 Pacific Island nations in a single security treaty. Beijing is now seeking one-on-one deals with individual island nations.

A Tongan government website published a photograph of six officials from China’s Ministry of Public Security meeting with Sovaleni on Wednesday during their visit to the island nation of just over 100,000.

Sovaleni said discussions had centered on China providing police motorcycles and other vehicles to support security for the regional leaders’ summit that rotates annually between