Violent Attacks On Asian Shopkeepers Hurts Tonga's Reputation

Chinese businesspeople live in fear of attack; question lack of arrests, justice

By Mary Lyn Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 20, 2016) – Tonga's reputation as the Friendly Islands is being threatened by criminal thugs – probably from the same group, who are attacking Tonga's Chinese shopkeepers with a brutality that is breathtaking.

Shop surveillance videos released to Matangi Tonga this week show extremely violent crimes. The videos record attacks – in one a gun is fired to the side of a woman shopkeeper – and another where a Pahu shopkeeper, hit by a soccer punch to the face, falls backward suffering severe head injuries. He remains paralysed and fed on a tube.

These disturbing attacks were just two of several this year.

Early on Thursday morning, November 17, an attacker entered the bedroom of Mrs Ellen Yu. It is believed he crawled through the ceiling and dropped-down through a hole he made. The man beat the sleeping grandmother severely about the head with a piece of timber and she remains in a critical condition in Vaiola Hospital.

Ellen Yu could have been killed, says Jeremy Wang the Secretary of the Tonga Chinese Association, who struggles to find a motive for the vicious attack.

The Yu family has had four break-ins to their Railway Rd home this year. One was an armed robbery earlier this year where two armed robbers entered the compound, and when challenged one fired at the Yu's car, putting bullet holes in the windscreen and door.

“What we have witnessed today was the latest attack that happened to the Chinese community and in the last 12 months there has been four or five armed robberies … targeting local Chinese businesses,” Jeremy said on Thursday.

“The people who were committing these offences are very likely to be from the same group or at least related to each other. According to the police, there have been several arrests in the last few months and the police claim that they have arrested the main offender behind these attacks. We just don’t know if there is other people or just copycat crimes,” he said.

The videos show why Chinese shopkeepers live in fear, particularly those living in the Pahu area of Nuku'alofa. Their experience of living Tonga is a different world to the one that most of us know. The abuse they suffer from thugs entering their shops is a dark, unilluminated side of life in the capital.

Jeremy said that in one incident six months ago a shopkeeper was hurt in an attack that is shown on the security video.

“A local young man got into an argument with a local Chinese businessman and it turned into a brutal attack where the Tongan man basically assaulted the Chinese man with a fist. When he fell, his head fell on the shopping racks and this gentleman suffered a very severe injury to his head and he's spent the last six months in a hospital and he had to be fed through a tube. And it's very horrifying.”

Matangi Tonga visited the victim Mr Huang Xiun Lin (55), a grandfather, who ran the South Pacific Growers retail shop in By Pass Road. Huang has never recovered after the attack on 28 May. He remains lying in bed where the family live behind the shop and can only move his eyes. He is fed through a tube.

The family, who have lived for a long time in Tonga, speak fluent Tongan and no English. His wife Huang Bin said her husband can't eat and has a lot of pain in his throat. Their son Zheng Ying said they wanted to take his father back to China to seek better medical care but they could not afford it. At the moment there is no relief for the family caregivers who don't have a wheelchair and can't move the gravely ill man anywhere.

Another incident that was captured on surveillance video happened in March at a Chinese shop opposite the Queen Sālote College, where a woman shopkeeper was working late with her daughter at the counter.

“At about 10:00pm suddenly a Tongan man entered the premise and without any warning fired a shot, using what appears to be a hand gun directly toward her left side and the bullet struck the wall and made a hole and then demanded money to be given to him. It’s a very simple straightforward armed robbery,” said Jeremy.

“I think the trend that we see right here after a series of attacks on the Chinese community reflects the ability of the police to really apprehend these criminals. Also I'm actually having a lot of doubts on the Tongan justice system. Why are these people being released so early and why does the court process take so long? These are all very major violent offenders and they are being let out early or being temporarily released while on bail and they are committing these crimes. I think the Tongan government needs to change policy or law on how to handle these criminals, especially repeat offenders,” he said.

Less safe

The social forces behind the violence are complicated by a political dimension.

Dr Malakai Kolamatangi, Director – Pasifika, at Massey University in New Zealand said for a start it's obvious that “people are after property after cash and that could happen to anyone, it doesn't just need to happen to the Chinese,” he told news media yesterday.

“There is also perhaps an underlining current of resentment and we saw this during the riots in 2006 when the Chinese shop owners and the shops were broken into and some burnt and as a result some of the Chinese  shop owners got security guards, Tongan locals to guard their shops”

Dr Koloamatangi mentioned that the change in government that made the Chinese feel less safe.

“The current government and the current leaders were amongst the most vocal opponents of the sale of passports and the Chinese coming to Tonga…so, yeah, maybe Chinese would feel a bit more threatened now that the political structure in the government is moving more towards democracy, which is, in fact, ironic because they should be feeling more protection!” he said.

“The Chinese, despite everything that has happened, they have proven to be valuable citizens [and] Tongans need to see the Chinese as playing a valuable role whether economically or socially.

“I think it needs time and also the government needs to put its foot down and say this is unacceptable. The Chinese have a right to be here, they are here legally and so it needs to put in place some policies, some social policies to protect the Chinese. I am glad to see the New Zealand police inspector in Tonga to help liaise the Chinese community - that is great, that is the kind of thing that will help build bridges in the future,” said Dr Koloamatangi.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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