Anote Tong (simplified Chinese: 汤安诺; traditional Chinese: 湯安諾; pinyin: Tāng Ānnuò; born 11 June 1952 in Tabuaeran, Line Islands) is an I-Kiribati politician with Chinese heritage who served as President of Kiribati from 2003 to 2016. He won the election in July 2003 with a slim plurality of votes cast (47.4%) against his older brother, Dr. Harry Tong (43.5%) and the private lawyer Banuera Berina (9.1%). 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 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.
President Tong is primarily known abroad for his efforts to raise "global awareness on the threat posed by climate change", and was dubbed the "Mahatma Gandhi of the Pacific" by Grammy Award Winner Ricky Kej.
Early and personal life
Born in Tabuaeran, Line Islands, he is the third of six children of Tong Ting Hai, a Chinese migrant who settled in the Gilberts after World War II and Nei Keke Randolph, from the islands of Abaiang and Maiana in Kiribati, 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.
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.
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. 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.
Tong was re-elected to a third, and final, four-year term as President in the January 2012 election. Tong won a little over 40% of the popular vote. He defeated two challengers, including his nearest rival, Tetaua Taitai, by more than 2,000 votes. 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.
He retired from politics after the Kiribati parliamentary election, 2015–16.
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. 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." This variably leaves the door open for women's rights to become an even greater issue than it already is in Kiribati.
Tong also stood front and center in the push to create the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Due partly to this effort, Tong received in 2012 a Peter Benchley Ocean Award for "creating one of the World's largest and most biologically rich marine protected areas." He has been criticized, however, due to his hesitation in closing the preserve to fishing.
Global advocate on climate change and environmental protection
Tong has been at the forefront of raising global awareness about catastrophic risks caused by climate change. With his atoll nation of Kiribati rising an average height of two meters above sea level, rising sea levels due to climate change pose an existential threat to Kiribati and other small island states in the Pacific. Tong directed Kiribati’s purchase of approximately 20 square kilometers of land in Fiji in 2014 as an contingency refuge for his people. This follows advice from the IPCC following its fifth assessment that many Pacific Island states such as Kiribati could be submerged by rising sea levels within a few decades. Tong has said the purchase of land in Fiji was partly an investment in property, partly for food security purposes since it is prime farming land, but also a last resort it could be a home for the I-Kiribati people fleeing from the effects of climate change. Anote Tong, dubbed as a ‘climate warrior’, pioneered the notion of ‘migration with dignity’ to avoid the people of Kiribati from becoming ‘climate refugees’.
Tong is responsible for a number of other initiatives to combat climate change and protect the environment, such as calling for a global moratorium on using coal in 2015, as well as overseeing the creation of a 480,250 square kilometer marine park, the largest protected marine area in the world. The marine park was later adopted as a UNESCO World Heritage List site (Phoenix Islands Protected Area, or PIPA).
As part of his global advocacy on climate change, Tong has met with various world leaders to discuss the plight of small island states, including Pope Francis, US President Obama and spoke recently before world leaders at the COP21 Paris meeting. Tong also currently serves on the Board of Conservation International.
President Tong has been awarded leadership and environmental prizes for his work both in environmental protection and his advocacy on climate change and its effects. For example, Tong was awarded the 2015 Sunhak Peace Prize, and in 2012 both the Leadership Award from the Hillary Institute of International Leadership and the Peter Benchley Ocean Award. Tong has also been awarded a number of other awards such as the Order of Brilliant Jade with Grand Cordon by the President of Taiwan (2009), and the David B. Stone Award by the New England Aquarium Foundation (2008).