China defers Tonga's loan payments as Pacific nation signs up to Belt and Road: Tongan official

PORT MORESBY (REUTERS) - Tonga has signed up to China's Belt and Road initiative and has received a reprieve from Beijing on its onerous debt repayment schedule, an official from the Pacific island nation told Reuters.

Lopeti Senituli, political adviser to Tongan Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva, told Reuters by e-mail on Sunday (Nov 18) that Tonga had signed a Belt and Road memorandum of understanding, and that the concessional loan had been deferred for five years.

Tonga is one of eight island nations in the South Pacific that owe significant debt to China. The deferment came just as Tonga was set to commence principal repayments on the debt, which is expected to put severe strain on its finances.

China's ministry of foreign affairs did not immediately respond to request for comment on Sunday.