The partnership between the United States and Tonga is broad and deep, based on shared values and close cooperation on matters ranging from combating the climate crisis to improving maritime security and fostering cooperation and development in the region. The Kingdom of Tonga was a protected state of the United Kingdom until 1970. It is the South Pacific’s last Polynesian kingdom, a constitutional hereditary monarchy. The United States commended Tonga for its move toward fuller democracy through the 2010 election of its first popular majority parliament and subsequent elections in 2014, 2017, and 2021, which international observers deemed free and fair, as well as its ongoing development of an active and vibrant civil society.
Tonga has contributed significantly to international peace and security. From 2004 to 2008, Tonga deployed four contingents of soldiers to Iraq for durations of six months. In 2010, Tonga deployed the first contingent of 55 soldiers to Afghanistan in support of the British Armed Forces’ efforts in the International Security Assistance Force. Tonga deployed 330 soldiers to support U.K. forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2014. U.S. and Tongan military forces hold annual joint training exercises, and the Nevada National Guard entered into a State Partnership Program with Tonga in 2014.
Our shared history with Tonga also includes the Tongan American community, which numbers almost 70,000. Tongan Americans have made an impact in many facets of U.S. culture, particularly through American football, where many athletes have made their mark. Some have even been profiled in the film “In Football We Trust,” which brings a spotlight to the Polynesian community in the state of Utah.
U.S. Assistance to Tonga
Over 1,700 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Tonga since 1967. Averaging 50 Peace Corps Volunteers for approximately 100,000 Tongans, Peace Corps Tonga has one of the highest per capita programs in the world. Peace Corp volunteers recently returned to Tonga following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States is the largest single financial contributor to the COVAX Facility, from which Tonga has received approximately 48,000 COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine doses. In January 2022, USAID provided $2.6 million in humanitarian assistance to support people affected by volcanic eruptions and tsunami waves in Tonga. Prior to this, in May 2020, USAID provided $1 million to Act for Peace to fund protection and disaster risk reduction activities to include coordination with local organizations to conduct disaster simulation exercises and awareness on the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Tonga benefits from USAID’s COVID–19 support on infection, prevention and control; risk communication; surveillance; and lab support provided through grants to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tonga also benefits from USAID regional programs to respond to disasters and build community resilience to adapt to climate change. The Climate Ready project (2016-2021) and Institutional Strengthening in Pacific Island Countries (PIC) to Adapt to Climate Change program (2015-2021) supports resilience building opportunities and are instrumental in supporting climate adaptation planning. Tonga joined the Global Methane Pledge, and virtual Embassy Science Fellows (ESF) from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Interior are helping to develop a climate-resilient clean energy infrastructure plan for Tonga. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) signed an agreement with Tonga in April to conduct a feasibility study for solar energy infrastructure expansion.
The United States is a major financial contributor to international and regional organizations that assist Tonga, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, UN Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, and UN Fund for Population Activities. Tonga receives Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to equip its military and participates in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which sends Tongan officers and senior enlisted personnel to professional military education and leadership development courses in the United States. The Nevada National Guard has a State Partnership Program with Tonga, with whom it regularly conducts joint training. The United States also has a ship-rider agreement with Tonga to provide security and support ship-rider missions which allow Tongan law enforcement officials to ride aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels. The United States also contributes U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy air assets to regional Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) operations that help combat IUU fishing in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and supports the long-term sustainability of the fisheries resources. Additionally, Tonga is a regular participant in U.S. Pacific Command sponsored workshops on topics including humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, maritime security, peacekeeping, and international humanitarian law.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Tonga’s economy is characterized by a large non-monetary sector and a heavy dependence on remittances from the more than half of the country’s population that lives abroad, chiefly in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, particularly in Utah, California, and Hawaii. The United States has a trade surplus with Tonga, with two-way goods trade of approximately $17 million in 2020. Exports from Tonga are led by frozen fish and seafood and cultural handicrafts for the Tongan diaspora. Tonga is a party to the U.S.-Pacific Islands Multilateral South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which provides fisheries access for U.S. fishing vessels in exchange for a license fee paid by U.S. industry. Under a separate Economic Assistance Agreement associated with the Treaty, the United States government provides $21 million per year to the Pacific Island parties.
Tonga’s Membership in International Organizations
Tonga and the United States belong to many of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the Pacific Community, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme. Tonga is also a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, of which the United States is a Dialogue Partner.
The United States held its first ever U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit in Washington, D.C. in September 2022, at which the Kingdom of Tonga was represented, to broaden and deepen cooperation on key issues such as climate change, pandemic response, economic recovery, maritime security, environmental protection, and advancing a free and open Pacific region. Participants in the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit issued the Declaration on the U.S.-Pacific Partnership, a forward-looking vision statement reflecting our shared commitment to expand and deepen our cooperation in the years ahead.
The embassy maintains an American Corner in Tonga, which serves as a public platform for local engagement. Recently, the Public Affairs Section conducted several educational and professional exchange programs in Tonga, including the Fulbright program and Young Pacific Leaders. The Embassy also partnered with local organizations on small grant projects to tackle the climate crisis, promote disaster resilience and inclusive economic prosperity, and promote study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Through two different Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) grants totaling over $100,000, the United States helped preserve the 12th Century Royal Tombs.
The United States opened an Embassy to the Kingdom of Tonga in Nuku‘alofa on May 9, 2023, less than one year after Vice President Harris announced at a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum that the United States would begin discussions with Tonga regarding its interest in establishing an embassy there.
Establishing an embassy will pave the way for the United States to enhance its diplomatic engagement with Tonga, including through the potential appointment of a resident Ambassador to Tonga.
Principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
Tonga has no embassy in Washington, D.C. but has a permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, who is also accredited as ambassador to the United States. Tonga maintains a Consulate-General in San Francisco, California.
More information about Tonga is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here: