SYDNEY, July 13 -- The days unfold at a leisurely pace in Tonga, a South Pacific archipelago with no traffic lights or fast-food chains. Snuffling pigs roam dusty roads that wind through villages dotted with churches.
Yet even in this far-flung island kingdom there are signs that a battle for power and influence is heating up among much larger nations - and Tonga may end up paying the price. In the capital, Nuku'alofa, government officials work in a shiny new office block - an US$11 million (NZ$16 million) gift from China that is rivalled in grandeur only by China's imposing new embassy complex. Dozens of Tongan bureaucrats take all-expenses-paid training trips to Beijing each year, and China has laid out millions of dollars to bring 107 Tongan athletes and coaches to a training camp in China's Sichuan province ahead of this month's Pacific Games in Samoa. "The best facilities. The gym, the track, and a lot of equipment we don't have here in Tonga," said Tevita Fauonuku, the country's head athletic coach. "The accommodation: lovely, beautiful. And the meals. Not only that, but China gave each and everyone some money. A per diem." China also offered low-interest loans after pro-democracy rioters destroyed much of downtown Nuku'alofa in 2006, and analysts say those loans could prove Tonga's undoing. The country of 106,000 people owes some US$108m to China's Export-Import bank, equivalent to about 25 per cent of GDP. The US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse Jr, calls China's lending in the Pacific "payday loan diplomacy." "The money looks attractive and easy upfront, but you better read the fine print," he said. China's ambassador to Tonga, Wang Baodong, said China was the only country willing to step up to help Tonga during its time of need. Graeme Smith, a specialist in Chinese investment in the Pacific, is not convinced China tried to trap Tonga in debt, saying its own financial mismanagement is as much to blame. Nonetheless, he said it's worrying that the nation of 171 islands, already vulnerable to costly natural disasters, has little ability to repay.
Why is China pouring money into Tonga? Teisina Fuko, a 69-year-old former parliament member, suspects China finds his country's location useful. "I think Tonga is maybe a window to the Western side," he said. "Because it's easy to get here and look into New Zealand, Australia." "It's a stepping stone," he said.
Author: Linda Lim
WELLINGTON, May 31 -- As more governments around the world move to legalize cannabis -- either for medical or recreational purposes -- an image of a 21st-century "cannabusiness" is emerging: lush green plants growing in sleek, temperature-controlled rooms with workers in lab coats funded by venture capital.
And one small New Zealand medicinal cannabis business is looking to secure its slice of the pie, all while empowering a marginalized community and allowing it to create wealth from within. Based in the regional community of Ruatoria on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island, Hikurangi Cannabis is working to ensure Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, are included in -- and benefit from -- the country's growing cannabis industry. "We've got a lot of people who grow illicit cannabis for their incomes. They don't grow it to be millionaires or to put Ferraris in the garage -- they grow it to put food on the table and shoes on their kids' feet," explains co-founder Panapa Ehau as he drives along the narrow and winding road to Ruatoria, two hours north of the company's humble offices in the coastal city of Gisborne.
"If we're not at the leading edge of this industry, other people will be, and our people, whose incomes come from the illicit market, their incomes will decrease, and therefore their wellbeing will decrease."
In December, the New Zealand government enacted a law to make medicinal cannabis more widely available and began the process of creating a regulatory body to allow homegrown products to be manufactured and sold. In 2020, the country will hold a referendum on whether recreational cannabis should be legalized, potentially opening New Zealand up to an industry that is estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars worldwide. Ruatoria -- with a resident population of just 750 people -- is one of the most disadvantaged communities in New Zealand and would benefit greatly from involving itself in the growth industry.
Unemployment in the town stands at around 15 percent -- three times the national average -- and the median annual income is just NZ$17,100 (US$12,000) compared to NZ$52,000 nationally. Almost 94 percent of the population identify as Maori, one of the highest proportions anywhere in the country. Ehau says the "intergenerational trauma from colonization" has seen generations of Maori grow up relying on social welfare benefits and missing out on the socio-economic advances experienced by others in New Zealand. "There's a whole section of our community, what they see is to go to the income office and get a benefit, and that becomes normal. And there hasn't been a whole lot of innovation in our region," Ehau said. The 39-year-old hopes that by bringing a new industry to the area, people will be able to return to their ancestral homelands to work and reconnect with their cultural roots. And the community, it appears, is hopeful for change too. In 2018, Hikurangi Cannabis allowed locals to become stakeholders with a minimum investment of NZ$50 for 50 shares. "We raised NZ$1.5 million from arguably the lowest socio-economic area of the country," Ehau said. To reach a target of NZ$2 million, the company raised the last half-million dollars through a crowdfunding website. The capital-raising drive crashed the site, and shares sold out in seven minutes.
SHANGHAI, March 27 -- China's bookstore chain brand Fang Suo Commune clinched the Bookstore of the Year Award at The London Book Fair International Excellence Awards, the fair announced Tuesday.
It beat BOA Bookstore of Vietnam and Unity Books Wellington of New Zealand, both on the shortlist to win. Located at Taikoo Hui, one of the high-end shopping malls in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou, Fang Suo Commune is an innovative bookstore nestled among luxury shops. "This award goes from strength to strength and the entries were exceptionally strong this year," LBF judges said. "Fang Suo is ...breathtaking in scale and conception. (There is) A vast range of activities and events ...that gives you a glimpse of what bookstores of the future will be."
Opened in 2011, Fang Suo Commune Guangzhou has bookshelves covering its walls, from floor to ceiling. The 1,800-square-meter store boasts a coffee bar, a boutique and a handicrafts shop, and welcomes more than 2 million visitors through her doors every year. Fang Suo Commune Bookstore regularly hosts art exhibitions, lectures and book launches about art, culture and lifestyle, turning it into a center for the city's book lovers. The brand, now with branches in China's southwestern cities of Chengdu and Chongqing, and northeastern city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, aims at creating a new system for the Chinese aesthetics of life and exploring the possibilities of becoming an urban cultural complex, according to its official website.
Other winners of the LBF International Excellence Awards included Finland's Espoo City Library, which won the Library of the Year Award, and Ukraine's Book Arsenal Literary Festival, which took home the Literary Festival Award. The Audiobook Publisher of the Year Award went to Booklava from the United Arab Emirates.
CHRISTCHURCH, March 16 -- The Chinese community in New Zealand's Christchurch has stood out following Friday's terrorist attacks on two mosques, condemning terrorism and expressing their support for the victims by donating money.
Although there was no Chinese casualty in the attacks, the Chinese community is closely following the situation and cares about all victims, Canton Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand, an organization of local Chinese merchants, said in a statement Saturday. "No racism, no violence, no terrorism of any form!" said the statement. The chamber has asked all its members to donate money for the victims and is in contact with the Consulate General of China in Christchurch to voice support and condolences for the victims on behalf of all Chinese in the city, said the statement. The University of Canterbury Chinese Students & Scholars Society also expressed shock and regret over the attacks on Saturday, saying the atrocities have destroyed many people's lives and aroused deep anger.
"However, what they the perpetrators cannot destroy is our will," the society said in a statement.
"The diversity of New Zealand will not be shaken by such atrocities, nor will the virtue of helping each other by people on the land of this country," it added. Terrorism is the common enemy of all mankind that should not be allowed anywhere in the world, it said. "We strongly condemn the attack, and extend our sincere sympathy to families of the victims," it added.
Several gunmen opened fire at two mosques in central Christchurch Friday afternoon, leaving at least 49 people dead and 48 injured. Three suspects are now in custody, with one having appeared in court Saturday.
CHRISTCHURCH, March 15 -- Gunmen entered two mosques and began shooting in New Zealand's city of Christchurch on Friday killing at least 40 people - an unprecedented attack in the quiet country in the Pacific.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference that 20 others were in serious condition after the "terrorist" attack. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four suspects were in custody - three men and a woman. Sam Clarke, a reporter with TVNZ, spoke with several people inside the Masjid Al Noor mosque when the shooting began. He told Al Jazeera a man entered with an automatic weapon and began firing.
"A gunman - dressed in black with a helmet carrying a machine gun - came into the back of the mosque and started firing into the people praying there," said Clarke. Police confirmed a second shooting occurred at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers in the South Island city, but no details were immediately available. Ardern said: "This is, and will be, one of New Zealand's darkest days." Authorities have not described the scale of Friday's shootings but urged people in central Christchurch to stay indoors. New Zealand media reported between nine and 27 people were killed, but the death toll could not be confirmed. Police warned worshippers not to visit mosques "anywhere in New Zealand". A lockdown imposed throughout Christchurch was called off at about 05:00 GMT.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the suspects was an Australian national, calling him an "extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist".
Dressed in black
Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror. He said he also saw the gunman flee before emergency services arrived. Peneha - who lives next to the mosque - said he went into the building to try and help. "I saw dead people everywhere." One man in the mosque, with blood stains all over his clothes, said he hid under a bench as the shooting took place. He said about 50 people were inside the building. Clarke said some worshippers managed to escape through windows and doors but "many people had been hit, some as young as 16". About 10 to 15 people were seen outside the mosque, "some alive, some dead", he said. "It was unbelievable. I saw about 20 people, some dead, some screaming," one eyewitness told local television. "I saw on the floor so many bullet shells, hundreds. I saw one guy trying to run out and he was shot dead."
One of the gunmen shared a livestream of the attack on Facebook and posted content on Instagram. Facebook said it has taken down the video and was removing praise for the gunman. "Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online," a police statement said. "We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed." There were reports racist literature was left behind at the scene denouncing "invaders". Commissioner Bush said local police officers apprehended the four suspects. "There's been some absolute acts of bravery," he said without elaborating. "I won't assume there aren't others but I don't have any information to that effect," Bush told a press conference. He said a number of bombs were detected and neutralised on the attackers' automobiles. "There were a few reports of IEDs strapped to vehicles which we were able to secure," he said, referring to improved explosive devices.
Asked by reporters whether police considered Friday's carnage a "terrorist attack", Bush said an investigation was under way.
CHRISTCHURCH, March 15 -- At least 27 people were killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire at people inside two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, the Otago Daily Times said on its website on Friday.
At least 30 of those injured were rushed to city hospitals. Police detained one of the shooters. Armed people entered the the Al Noor and Linwood Masjid mosques in Christchurch at about 13:45 local time (04:46 Moscow time) shortly after the day prayer, blocked the entrance doors and opened fire. According to eyewitnesses, about 200 and 300 people were inside the buildings when the attack occurred. So far, the casualty reports have not yet been officially confirmed, but police urged citizens to stay indoors. All schools in the city were closed.