You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
After yesterday acknowledging links with Auckland businessman Yikun Zhang, who Jami-Lee Ross alleges provided a donation of $100,000 to Simon Bridges, Mr Tong today confirmed to the Otago Daily Times he was in China on a trip paid for by Mr Zhang.
The trip was planned about a year ago.
Mr Tong said he had "nothing to hide" over his relationship with Mr Zhang and reiterated that no-one was accusing Mr Zhang of doing anything wrong.
The allegations of wrong-doing were instead directed at Mr Bridges.
He was yet to speak to Mr Zhang about the unfolding scandal today.
He said he felt more for Mr Zhang's wife who he felt had been unfairly subjected to media interviews back home in Auckland.
The trip to China was aimed at building links between Southland and China and Mr Tong was confident the efforts would pay off for the region's economy.
"I believe it is going to be a massive benefit to Southland in the very near future."
The culture in China meant it took a while to gain trust, but Mr Tong was now on his fifth visit and believed he was making progress.
Mr Zhang was crucial "100% committed" to helping make sure connections were forged between Southland and China.
"I've got nothing but admiration for the man."
The latest revelations come after it emerged yesterday Mr Zhang had been approached by Mr Tong as a potential business adviser.
It also emerged Mr Zhang has an ongoing professional relationship and friendship with Mr Tong, who gave Mr Zhang two fresh legs of lamb and four live crayfish, and also received a sponsored trip to China last year.
Four Southland district councillors said they had never heard of Mr Zhang before yesterday.