China promises it would negotiate with Tonga on debt payment

China's ambassador to Tonga has denied engaging in "debt trap" diplomacy in the Pacific, saying that if the heavily indebted country cannot repay its loans, "we can talk and negotiate in a friendly, diplomatic manner".

The Guardian reports Cao Xiaolin told a gathering in Nuku'alofa - a rare opportunity for journalists to question Chinese officials - that preferential loans from China came with "no political strings attached" and that Beijing would never force countries to repay the loans.

Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January, has external debt of $US195 million, or 36 percent of its GDP, of which two-thirds is owed to China's Exim Bank.

Debt repayments to China are due to spike in 2024, on a loan used to rebuild its central business district after riots in 2006.

"For a long time, some media have misinterpreted the preferential loans from China to Tonga," said Xiaolin.

"They fabricated the so-called Chinese 'debt trap' in malicious intentions to defame and smear China and disrupt China's cooperation with Tonga."

He said Tonga's government requested the loans from Exim bank and that it had started paying them back already, "which indicates a healthy status of Tonga's fiscal and economic system and has sent a positive signal to the international community".

When asked how much Tonga owes China, Xiaolin said he could not provide the figures.