The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.

On this page:

  • Overview
  • Politics 
  • Tonga and Australia
  • Tonga and its neighbours 


Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, a unique attribute in the Pacific. Their constitution dates back to 1875 but monarchy itself is over 1,000 years old.

In 1900, during the reign of George II, Tonga became a British protectorate to discourage German advances. Under the treaty (amended in 1905), Tonga agreed to conduct all foreign affairs through a British consul, who had veto power over Tonga’s foreign policy and finances. George II was followed by Queen Salote Tupou III, who ruled from 1918 to 1965. She was succeeded upon her death in 1965 by her son Prince Tupouto‘a Tungi. He ruled as King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV. In 1970 Tonga regained full control of domestic and foreign affairs and became a fully independent country within the Commonwealth.

A pro-democracy movement took shape in the late 20th century and gained momentum over the following decade. In September 2006, King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV died and was succeeded by Crown Prince Tupouto‘a, who ruled as King George (Siaosi) Tupou V. Later that month a National Committee for Political Reform, whose formation had been approved by the previous king, made its report to the legislature. Its recommendations included reducing the size of the unicameral legislative assembly (Fale Alea) and increasing the number of seats for popularly elected representatives. However, only an amended version passed. Following the vote, a demonstration by pro-democracy protesters turned into a riot that went on for several weeks. Arson destroyed most of the capital’s business district. Seven people died and hundreds were arrested. Troops were called in from New Zealand and Australia to reestablish peace.

King George Tupou V was succeeded by his brother, Prince Tupouto‘a Lavaka, Tupou VI who is the current head of state and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Armed Forces. Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni was elected Prime Minister on the 15th of December 2021.


The legislative assembly comprises 17 people’s representatives and 9 noble representatives elected from the holders of Tonga’s 33 noble titles. The King has the right to appoint 4 additional members on the advice of the Prime Minister. The legislative assembly votes for the Prime Minister through a ballot and the King then appoints them as the Prime Minister. The King retains the right to veto legislation.

Tonga and Australia

In 2020, Tonga and Australia celebrated 50 years of strong diplomatic relations. There is also a history of strong people-to-people links between the countries with over 32,000 people living in Australia identifying as having Tongan ancestry.

Australia is providing Tonga with development assistance to aid its economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19. This includes support for health systems, water, sanitation, hygiene, economic growth, skills development, labour mobility, and building resilience against natural disasters.

Australia also supports Tonga’s security through the Defence Cooperation Program, the Pacific Maritime Security Program, and the Tonga Australia Police Partnership.

For further reading on Australia’s engagement with Tonga, refer to the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) website.

Diplomacy and Rugby

Rugby Union is the official national sport of Tonga and most people are very passionate supporters. Many young Tongans are offered scholarships to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan based on their rugby skills. In February 2024, the Australian Government and Rugby Australia announced an Australian/Pacific Rugby Union Partnership with the aim of bringing the region together through a shared love of the game.

Tonga and its Neighbours

Neighbouring countries include Fiji to the West, the Cook Islands to the East, and Somoa to the North. Tonga maintains cordial relations with its neighbours in the South Pacific and maintains numerous bilateral relationships as well as membership in the Pacific Islands Forum.

Tonga has also maintained strong ties with China, particularly since 1998 when his Majesty King Tupou VI visited Beijing in his capacity as foreign minister. Shortly after, in 1998, the Chinese embassy in the Kingdom of Tonga was established. China has provided substantial funding for construction and development in Tonga, including providing loans to the nation following the volcanic eruption and tsunamis of January 2022.

For further reading on Tonga-China relations, see the resources below:


  1. Tonga-China Relations (
  2. King of Tonga Tupou VI Meets with Wang Yi (


Over 1,700 United states Peace Corps volunteers have served in Tonga since 1967. Averaging 50 Peace Corps Volunteers for approximately 100,000 Tongans. Tonga also benefits from USAID regional programs that will help the country build community resilience to adapt to climate change and respond to any disasters. The United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) signed an agreement with Tonga in April 2023 to conduct a feasibility study for solar energy infrastructure expansion. The United States opened an Embassy to the Kingdom of Tonga in Nuku‘alofa on May 9, 2023 with the intent of increasing bilateral cooperation.

For further information on Tonga Diplomacy, see the resources below: