The President of the Republic takes off on Sunday for New Caledonia, the first stage of a long diplomatic tour in the Pacific.
After the redesign, direction Oceania. Emmanuel Macron is expected Monday evening in New Caledonia for a long-awaited visit, more than a year after the victory of the “no” vote in the referendum on the independence of the archipelago.
Boycotted by the separatists, the December 2021 ballot did not ease tensions. The president now intends to overcome the “fractures”, we are told at the Elysée, to invent with the Caledonians a new status for the territory. He will meet on this subject with the various local political forces on Tuesday, after a day on Monday devoted to the problems of coastal erosion.
Emmanuel Macron will continue his journey with two stages described as “historic” in Vanuatu, Thursday, and in Papua New Guinea, Friday, where no French president has ever visited since the independence of the two countries. Only General de Gaulle enjoyed a walkabout in Vanuatu in 1966, but the territory was still a Franco-British colony called New Hebrides.
The Indo-Pacific, “diplomatic priority”
In these archipelagos located north of Australia, Emmanuel Macron must decline his strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, which consists of “re-engaging France” in the area. The Head of State has made it a “diplomatic priority”, as shown by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent invitation to the July 14 parade.
The nerve center of world trade, the Indo-Pacific is the scene of an intense battle for influence between China and the United States. Thus, Beijing is displaying its claims more and more firmly in the South China Sea, not hesitating to enter into conflict with countries such as Vietnam or the Philippines.
Xi Jinping’s regime is also weaving its diplomatic web in the region with trade and security agreements in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu. Washington, for its part, is counter-attacking by increasing its military presence in the region and its support for Taiwan.
Faced with Beijing and Washington, the French “alternative”
Faced with this duel, “what we are proposing is an alternative”, an adviser to the Elysee Palace told the press ahead of the presidential trip. A form of third way which had earned an international volley of green wood for Emmanuel Macron, when he called in April on Europeans not to be “followers” of Washington.
If France is present in the Indo-Pacific basin thanks to its overseas territories (New Caledonia, Wallis-and-Futuna, French Polynesia, Reunion…), “the attention paid to the Pacific islands, States and territories members of the Pacific Community (SPC), has so far been quite modest despite their strategic importance”, notes the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri).
“The geographical remoteness and the limited knowledge of this region in Europe do not in fact favor political, economic and media interest”, underlines the institute.
Humiliated by the conclusion of an Aukus alliance between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, depriving it of a lucrative submarine contract with Canberra, France is now seeking to conclude bilateral agreements in the region, as with Indonesia.
In 2022, France was able to boast of being the first European country invited by Apec, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, which brings together around twenty countries including China, the United States, Russia, Japan, Australia… This diplomatic success “validates the Indo-Pacific strategy launched in 2018”, welcomed the Elysée at the time.
A finding tempered at the start of 2023 by a senatorial report, which points to financial means not “up to the height of the ambitions displayed”, particularly in military matters.
For Emmanuel Macron, the French strategy must be based on multiple levers: economic, military, cultural but also environmental. The Élysée has thus promised “strong announcements” with a view to “enhancing” France’s commitment to the small islands which are on the front line in the face of global warming.
This article is originally published on bfmtv.com