Anote Tong

Anote Tong is an I-Kiribati politician with Chinese heritage who is the President of Kiribati.

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Anote Tong (Chinese: 汤安诺; pinyin: Tāng Ānnuò; born 11 June 1952) is an I-Kiribati politician with Chinese heritage who is the President of Kiribati. He won the election in July 2003 with a slim plurality of votes cast (47.4%) against his brother, Dr. Harry Tong (43.5%) and the private lawyer Banuera Berina (9.1%).[1] The elections were contested by the opposition, due to allegations of electoral fraud but the High Court of Tarawa had confirmed that there was no fraud. He was easily re-elected on 17 October 2007, for a second term (64%). In 2012, Tong was reelected for a third term, although with a significantly smaller percentage than in the previous two elections.[2]


Personal life

Born in Tabuaeran, he is the son of a Chinese migrant who settled in the Gilberts after World War II and of Nei Keke, from the island of Maiana in Kiribati,[3] he went to St Bede's College for his secondary school education, graduated from Canterbury University with a degree in Science, and then gained a Masters in Economics degree from the London School of Economics.[4]

He is married to an I-Kiribati woman, First Lady Nei Meme, and has seven children. Tong is originally from the island of Maiana, located in central Kiribati.[5]

Political career

During the campaign, he promised to review the lease of a spy and satellite tracking base used by the People's Republic of China and "to take appropriate actions at the right time." On 7 November, he established relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan, which led the People's Republic of China to sever relations and vacate its satellite base nearly a month later.

Tong was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat in parliament in the August 2007 parliamentary election.[6] On 17 October 2007, he was re-elected as president by a large majority. The opposition boycotted the election due to the exclusion of two opposition candidates, including Tong's brother Harry.[7]

Tong was re-elected to a third, and final, four-year term as President in the January 2012 election.[8] Tong won a little over 40% of the popular vote.[8] He defeated two challengers, including his nearest rival, Tetaua Taitai, by more than 2,000 votes.[8] Tong reappointed Teima Onorio to a third term as Vice President of Kiribati on 19 January 2012, as part of his cabinet appointments for his third term.[9]

A women's rights group, the Kiribati National Council of Women, has been formed recently for the primary purpose of advocating for a proposed new government entity, one that would be the Ministry of Women and Children. A bill that among other actions would create this bureau passed through the House of Assembly of Kiribati on 23 August 2012 and reached the second round of voting, but was ultimately voted against due to a blurry outline on budgetary proportioning.[10] After the National Council of Women voiced its discontent, President Tong stated that "the defeat was unfortunate, but it does not mean that we will not continue to support the women’s issues. As a government, we will do it via other means, and perhaps it will come back to Parliament in the future.”[11] This variably leaves the door open for women's rights to become an even greater issue than it already is in Kiribati.

Speaking up on climate change

President Tong has attracted international attention by warning that his country may become uninhabitable by the 2050s due to rising sea levels and salination provoked by climate change. Tong has stated on several occasions that Kiribati may cease to exist altogether, and that its entire population of 94,000 may need to be resettled as climate refugees. In June 2008, he stated that Kiribati may already have reached "the point of no return"; he added: "To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that."[12][13][14][15][16][17]

President Tong has sought possibilities for ultimately relocating the entire population of his country to other countries. His stated plan is for the people of Kiribati to "receive job training and then seek skilled jobs in other nations", so that they may become productive members of their host society, and avoid becoming merely "environmental refugees". "The plan has already begun to be implemented, with small groups of nurses going to Australia for training and other workers to New Zealand."[18]

Specifically, Tong's government has "signed on to New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS), which provide seasonal employment opportunities in fruit-picking and horticulture industries". Only small numbers of I-Kiribati have been able to benefit so far. Tong has also reached an agreement with Australia to set up a Kiribati-Australia Nurses Initiative, whereby about eighty I-Kiribati receive nursing training in Australia, with an aim to "attain Australian nursing qualifications and industry experience". "[S]ome will go back to Kiribati to work the health system, but others will stay in Australia to send remittances home to households and community."[19]

So far, however, no country has agreed to relocate substantial numbers of I-Kiribati. President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia did tell President Tong that there was "plenty of room" in his country for I-Kiribati migrants, but he died suddenly in office in August 2008.[20] In February 2012, Tong visited Fiji to seek to buy lands from the Fijian government, to resettle I-Kiribati migrants.[21] Speaking on Fiji One, Tong explained that the migration of his country's population would begin with a fairly small number of trained, skilled workers, while others were in the process of obtaining similar skills, to make themselves useful to the host nation: "We don't want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go. They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community".[22][23]

In 2008, his government declared 150,000 square miles (390,000 km2) "of [the] Phoenix Islands marine area a fully protected marine park, making it off limits to fishing and other extractive uses". This, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, was made a United Nations World Heritage Site. Its "rich biodiversity includ[es] an abundance of healthy corals, big sharks, groupers, tuna, giant clams and other critters that have been depleted in much of the rest of the world". Tong explained that it was intended as "a significant contribution to the world community in the hope they would also act".[24][25]

Declaring himself "extremely disappointed" by the outcome of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Tong has "call[ed] a meeting in November [2010] in Kiribati, inviting large countries—the big polluters—and have them meet with the victims, the most vulnerable states: ours and the Marshall Islands and the Maldives".[25]


  1. "Country profile: Kiribati". BBC News. 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 11 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-06.
  3. Tiny Pacific islands play China using the Taiwan card
  4. "World Environment Day guests confirmed", New Zealand government press release, 5 March 2008; contains a brief biography of President Tong
  5. "Parliament Nominates 3 Candidates for Kiribati President". The Kiribati Independent (East–West Center's Pacific Islands Report). 25 November 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  6. "Kiribati president returned at general election, likely will form new government", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), 23 August 2007.
  7. "Tong re-elected Kiribati president", ABC Radio Australia, 18 October 2007.
  8. "Kiribati’s Tong beats challengers to win third term". Radio New Zealand International. 14 January 2012. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
  9. "Kiribati President Appoints New Cabinet". Kiribati Independent (Pacific Islands Report). 19 January 2012. Retrieved 2011-01-23.
  10. Kiribati Women's Rights Bill
  11. President Tong's stance on Women's Rights in Kiribati
  12. "Leader of disappearing island nation says climate change an issue of survival, not economics", International Herald Tribune, 5 June 2008
  13. "Kiribati leader warns the world that it may already be too late", TV3, 5 June 2008
  14. "Kiribati's President: 'Our Lives Are At Stake': For the Islands of Kiribati, Global Warming Poses Immediate Dangers", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2 April 2007
  15. "Paradise lost: climate change forces South Sea islanders to seek sanctuary abroad", The Independent, 6 June 2008
  16. "Tiny atoll in Pacific cries out for help", The Times of India, 6 June 2008
  17. Russell, Christine (2 2009). "First Wave". Science News 175 (5): 25–29. doi:10.1002/scin.2009.5591750125.
  18. "Island nation president plans for extinction", Harvard Gazette, 25 September 2008
  19. "Small Islands States say "global community has failed to deliver" on climate", Islands Business, 3 August 2010
  20. "Interview with a Drowning President, Kiribati's Anote Tong", The Nation, 1 October 2010
  21. "Kiribati eyeing land in Fiji as sea levels rise", TVNZ, 1 March 2012
  22. "Entire nation of Kiribati to be relocated over rising sea level threat", The Telegraph, 7 March 2012
  23. "Kiribati relocation", Fiji One, 3 March 2012
  24. "As a tiny island nation makes a big sacrifice, will the rest of the world follow suit?",, 15 September 2010
  25. "Interview with a Drowning President, Kiribati's Anote Tong", The Nation, 1 October 2010