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Chinese aircraft in Tonga triggers NZ to end tourism aid

A Chinese aircraft gifted to Tonga, which triggered the New Zealand government to suspend tourism aid, will be in operation from as early as next week.The New Zealand foreign minister said he would suspend more than US$8 million aid package until the MA-60 aircraft’s safety was certified to an international standard.But Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister, Samiu Vaipulu, says Tonga will not buckle under pressure from Wellington.Mary Baines reports:Samiu Vaipulu says the Real Tonga aircraft is certified, in the process of getting insurance, and will start flying domestically to Vava’u as early as next week. “SAMIU VAIPULU: We did it according to our legislation and according to ICAO and its safety. We did our own diligence and we will fly it as soon as we complete the procedures that we want done.”Mr Vaipulu says New Zealand cannot just give money to Tonga, and then tell Tonga what to do. He says he knows the aircraft meets international standards because MA-60s are still flying in China, which is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. He says New Zealand should take any issues it has with the safety of the aircraft to China, not to Tonga. “SAMIU VAIPULU: Go and talk with China on the Chinese Standards. New Zealand should do that with China. We are doing it with China, and New Zealand should do that with China and not us. I am not worried about New Zealand.”The New Zealand foreign minister, Murray McCully, and the acting New Zealand High Commissioner in Tonga, Peter Shackleton, were both unavailable for comment. But Mr McCully said in an earlier media release that tourism aid will remain on hold until safety issues are resolved to the satisfaction of respected international aviation experts. He said if the plane goes into service without internationally respected certification, New Zealand’s Tongan travel advisory is to warn tourists. A spokesman for the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority says the Authority cannot comment on aviation issues in Tonga as it has different regulations, and is out of the Authority’s jurisdiction. The Tonga Minister for Tourism, Viliami Latu, says his ministry has had no say on whether the aircraft should be used, and is caught between those making decisions and the New Zealand government. “VILIAMI LATU: I am only concerned with tourism, as the minister responsible for tourism. The aircraft is an aviation issue that rests with another ministry. Unfortunately we have been caught in the middle.”Mr Latu says the Kingdom will be hit hard by the lack of tourism aid. “VILIAMI LATU: According to the statistics that we have received, it hasn’t been really affected, but I’m conscious of the fact that it will affect in the next few months.The tourism partnership programme that we are having with New Zealand aid is planning for the long-term. For the next 3 to 5 years it’s part of the plan to promote and market Tonga as a tourism destination. I am afraid that it will highly affect what we have planned for.”Mr Latu says New Zealand provides 70 percent of total funding for the industry, mainly for marketing and promotion for visitors from New Zealand and Australia. The Chinese Ambassador to Tonga - Wang Donghua - was not available for comment.