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Celebrating Commonwealth Day in Tonga

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

image of high commissioners
Commemorating Commonwealth Day 2023, three High Commissioners, from left: HE Rachael Moore, (Australia), HE Lucy Joyce, (British), and HE Matthew Howell, (New Zealand). Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Photo: BHC.

Commonwealth Day, on the second Monday in March, is the annual celebration observed by people all over the Commonwealth in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, the Pacific and Europe, where we can come together and celebrate the values and aspirations which unite us. Here in Tonga, four members of the Commonwealth are represented: our hosts, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom through our High Commissions.

A commonwealth is a traditional English-language term for a political community founded for the common good. Since the early 20th century, the term has been used to name some associations of states, including the Commonwealth of Nations - the formal title of the organisation we are celebrating. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom joined the Commonwealth as it evolved into being during the 20th century, with the Kingdom of Tonga joining on 4 June 1970. This is marked at the heart of downtown Nuku’alofa where a fountain with dolphins playing, a gift from the UK, sits on the edge of Pangai looking across to the Royal Palace. It bears a plaque welcoming Tonga ‘to the comity of nations’. 

The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 56 independent and equal countries, including both republics and monarchies. The Head of the Commonwealth is King Charles III. It is home to 2.5 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. Thirty two of its members are small states, including many island nations like Tonga. The member governments have agreed to shared goals like development, democracy and peace, and the values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter. While the Commonwealth's roots go back to the days of the British Empire, today membership is wider. The last two countries to join the Commonwealth were Gabon and Togo in 2022.

The theme for this year’s Commonwealth is ‘Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future’. Speaking about the day, Commonwealth Secretary-General the Right Honourable Patricia Scotland KC said: “This theme signifies the active commitment of member states to collaborate on climate action, support the development of free and democratic societies, and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all Commonwealth citizens. And during this Commonwealth Year of Youth, it focuses our efforts on building a better future for the 1.5 billion Commonwealth citizens under the age of 30.”

This year, Commonwealth Day takes place on Monday 13 March, and will be the start of a series of events and activities taking place across the world. Here in Tonga, thanks to the good offices of the Reverend Dr Havea, we had a chance to come together and celebrate the Commonwealth at a special service at Centenary Church on Sunday 12 March where we were honoured by the presence of Her Majesty  Queen Nanasipau’u and the Acting Prime Minister, as well as many other dignitaries. 

Commonwealth Charter

Commonwealth Day 2023 marks the tenth anniversary of the Commonwealth Charter, which was signed by Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 11 March 2013 and outlines the values and aspirations which unite the Commonwealth. It expresses the commitment of member states to the development of free and democratic societies, and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all the people of the Commonwealth.

So we, the Commonwealth, are a family of countries with a shared past, a shared present, and a shared future. But there is a direct challenge to this shared future playing out, with consequences for us all. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine represents a direct challenge to Commonwealth values and the international rules based system.

It also recognises the potential of, and the need for, the Commonwealth as a compelling force for good and as an effective network for co-operation and for promoting development. And it warmly affirms that the special strength of the Commonwealth lies in the combination of our diversity and our shared inheritance in language, culture and the rule of law; bound together by shared history and tradition; by respect for all states and people; by shared values and principles and by concern for the vulnerable, and the core Commonwealth principles of consensus and common action, mutual respect, inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, legitimacy, and responsiveness.

We saw Commonwealth cooperation in action last year, when vessels from the Royal Navies of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom supported the Tongan government, His Majesty’s Armed Forces, NEMO and first responders in the recovery from the devastating impacts of the explosion of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano and the resulting tsunami. The UK’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region is marked by the persistent presence of two Offshore Patrol Vessels, HMS Spey and Tamar. Their regional proximity meant that Spey was able to respond in the hour of need and work with New Zealand defence forces in the humanitarian and disaster relief operation. Spey also supported HMAS Canberra with work at Kao island to repair the communications tower, and our three visiting navies all worked in close coordination with His Majesty’s Armed Forces Maritime Command Centre.

King Charles III as Head of the Commonwealth

This will be the first Commonwealth Day since Her late Majesty The Queen’s passing, and the first presided over by His Majesty King Charles III as Head of the Commonwealth. We know that King Charles is as committed to the Commonwealth as Her late Majesty was. She became the driving force behind the Commonwealth as it emerged after World War II and always kept a special place for the Commonwealth in Her work. With the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in neighbouring Samoa in 2024, and the once-in-a-decade UN Small Island Developing States Summit in 2024 there will be a special focus on the Pacific next year.  The Commonwealth is a recognised intergovernmental champion of small states, advocating for their special needs; providing policy advice on political, economic and social development issues; and delivering technical assistance.

This important work will continue through a series of upcoming meetings, including next week’s Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting, in London. The Foreign Minister of Tonga, the Hon Fekita ‘Utoikamanu, will be in London for this and will represent the Kingdom of Tonga at the Commonwealth Service in Westminster Abbey, the annual church celebration. And we expect that there will be other opportunities for the Commonwealth to come together, including in London around the celebrations of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III on 6 May.

We are committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth is an effective association, responsive to members’ needs, and capable of addressing the significant global challenges of the future. It is a strong and respected voice in the world, and is dedicated to improving the lives of all peoples of the Commonwealth. And as the President of the Royal Commonwealth Society, David Howell, put it, the Commonwealth’s goal is clear – 'to build together, in a spirit of trust and friendship, a safer and more prosperous future for every one of the Commonwealth’s citizens. Today we invite people in cities, towns, and villages across the Commonwealth to come together, to reflect, and to look forward to what we can achieve together’.

HE Rachael Moore, Australian High Commissioner to Tonga
HE Matthew Howell, New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga
HE Lucy Joyce, British High Commissioner to Tonga

Commonwealth Day 2023 service, conducted by Rev. Dr Havea in Nuku'alofa.

BHC staff photo
Commemorating Commonwealth Day 2023. Staff of the British High Commission, from left: Mr. Duncan Tu’ihakau, Ms. Laukau Maue, H.E. Lucy Joyce, Ms. Maryanne Saafi, Mr. Paul Lawrence. Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Photo: BHC


Matangi Tonga Online ref. #7105 British High Commission, 13 March - 12 April 2023