New U.S. Embassy in Tonga shows ‘enduring commitment’

The United States opened an embassy in Tonga on May 10, part of a growing partnership between the two nations, which have shared diplomatic ties since 1972.

The opening of U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa comes as the countries work together on issues ranging from economic development and maritime security to the climate crisis.

“This opening symbolizes the renewal of our relationship and underlines the strength of our commitment to our bilateral relations, to the people of Tonga, and to our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region,” U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Three men on stage, one at lectern speaking to seated crowd (U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa)
U.S. Embassy Suva, Fiji, Deputy Chief of Mission Antone Greubel, left, and Tonga’s Acting Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu, center, listen to remarks from U.S. Senior Representative Tom Armbruster at the opening ceremony for the U.S. Embassy in Tonga on May 10. (U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa)

Shared values

The new embassy paves the way for greater engagement with Tonga, Miller added, including a larger U.S. diplomatic presence there.

“We look forward to being able to engage more fully with our friends in Tonga and the broader region!” Marie C. Damour, the U.S. ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu, said in a tweet.

During a May 10 opening ceremony, Antone Greubel, deputy chief of mission at U.S. Embassy Suva, Fiji, described the United States’ partnership as “rooted in shared values and close cooperation.”

The embassy opened less than a year after Vice President Harris announced in July 2022 that the United States and Tonga had begun talks on U.S. interest in opening an embassy. In August, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Tupou VI, King of Tonga, in Nuku`alofa to celebrate 50 years of bilateral relations.

In September 2022, the Biden administration launched the first U.S. Pacific Partnership Strategy (PDF, 279KB), outlining steps for greater U.S. engagement in the Pacific region. Since then, the U.S. has opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands, moved the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea to a new facility in Port Moresby, and announced an intent to open an embassy in Vanuatu, subject to congressional notification.

The United States is also continuing discussions with Kiribati about opening a new embassy in Tarawa.

Three men and two women standing and posing for photo, with colorful rug and wall hanging (U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa)
From left: Deputy Chief of Mission Antone Greubel, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Tongan Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala, Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku and Foreign Minister Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu in Nuku`alofa, Tonga, on August 5, 2022 (U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa)

Long-standing ties

Cultural and historic ties between the U.S. and Tonga date back to the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation signed October 2, 1886. Tonga has welcomed over 1,700 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers since 1967.

More than 50,000 Tongan Americans live in the United States. They are part of a diverse Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community that brings vibrant contributions to U.S. culture.

Recent U.S.-Tonga collaboration has included the response to the January 2022 volcanic eruption off the coast of Tonga that triggered tsunami waves and destroyed homes and infrastructure. The U.S. provided $2.6 million in humanitarian assistance and deployed satellite communications and early warning equipment.

View looking up at National Reserve Bank of Tonga building against a cloudy sky, with two flags flying out front (U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa)
U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa, which opened May 10, is located in the National Reserve Bank of Tonga building. (U.S. Embassy Nuku`alofa)

In September 2022, President Biden announced $810 million in expanded programs for Pacific Islands, including $130 million to address the consequences of climate change and to bolster early warning systems for extreme weather events.

“The United States is a proud Pacific nation and has an enduring commitment to the Pacific Islands,” Harris told the Pacific Island Forum in Washington in July 2022.