The AUKUS debate “influenced France’s attitude towards New Caledonia” – .

The AUKUS debate “influenced France’s attitude towards New Caledonia” – .

As New Caledonian voters brace themselves for Sunday’s referendum on self-determination – a poll that will be boycotted by independence supporters – Caledonian leaders say the diplomatic scuffle over AUKUS has affected politics of France in the French dependency of the Pacific.
In an interview, the former president of New Caledonia Thierry Santa told me:

It is certain that the breach of the submarine contract by Australia and the United States influenced France’s attitude towards New Caledonia.

Santa Claus is the head of The Rally – The Republicans, an anti-independence conservative party that urges New Caledonians to vote ‘No’ against independence this weekend, in what will be the third in a series of referendums since 2018 under the Noumea Accord . Elected president of New Caledonia in 2019, Father Christmas lost his post following ministerial resignations last February, but still sits in the multi-party government headed by his successor, President Louis Mapou.

Thierry Santa, third from the left, in Nouméa in February (Theo Rouby / AFP via Getty Images)

At a time of US-China tensions in the Pacific, geopolitical changes overshadow local concerns in the process of decolonization. The pursuit of colonial control over New Caledonia is a central pillar of French President Emmanuel Macron’s Indo-Pacific strategy, based on the “India-Australia-France” axis he announced in Sydney in May 2018.

Gathering’s Thierry Santa said:

I think that for a long time, France relied heavily on its relationship with Australia to strengthen the Indo-Pacific axis. The fact that Australia has turned its back on the submarine contract has really made France aware that it is alone in the territories of the Pacific.

In recent years, Paris has broadened its strategic partnership with Canberra. After a decade of negotiations, Australia and France signed a mutual logistical support agreement in 2018, an agreement presented as “symbolic of the strategic depth and maturity of relations between France and Australia in the field of defense “.

The fear that geopolitical postures overshadow local concerns was underscored in a major speech by President of New Caledonia Louis Mapou on November 25.

There is increased intelligence sharing and joint military exercises. In 2020, the Australian Defense Force appointed a liaison officer in Noumea to work with the Armed Forces of New Caledonia (AFCN), as a key element of the emerging relationship. Last year, the Australian Consul General in Noumea told me: “There is an alignment between Australia’s ‘step-up’ engagement with the Pacific and the Indo-Pacific axis strategy. from France. In this sense, France is a very important partner for Australia.

But plans to expand these strategic and commercial ties have been torpedoed by the new Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) partnership. The brutal abandonment of the $ 90 billion submarine contract between Australia and the French company Naval Group angered Macron (especially since the arms sales to India, the Australia and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are a central pillar of its Indo-Pacific policy).

A prominent indigenous Kanak politician, Pierre-Chanel Tutugoro, told me that Canberra’s brutal removal of the submarine contract had strengthened French resolve in New Caledonia. Tutugoro is general secretary of Caledonian Union, the largest independence party in New Caledonia and a key element of the main independence coalition Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS).

Tutugoro wondered whether the deployment of 1,400 additional French police and military before Sunday’s vote – backed by 30 armored cars and helicopters – should send a message to neighboring countries as well as to the Kanak independence movement.

“In my opinion, all of this reflects the desire to show French power. Perhaps they need this spectacle to indicate that France is not a small, but a great power in the Indo-Pacific. Maybe they’re sending a message to Australia and New Zealand, that even if you don’t want to buy our submarines, we still have a role and the Indo-Pacific axis promoted by President Macron will be maintained.

Three leading New Caledonian scholars – Benoȋt Trépied from France, Rowena Dickins Morrison from Australia and Adrian Muckle from New Zealand – argued in a recent statement that “with the growing possibility of an independence victory, France derailed decolonization in an attempt to consolidate its position in the Indo-Pacific.

They suggest that the AUKUS decision, in the midst of preparations for the referendum, hardened Macron’s long-held view of the importance of keeping New Caledonia within the French Republic:

“The independence of New Caledonia ostensibly threatens to further diminish France’s position in the region. ”

This concern that geopolitical postures eclipse local concerns was underscored in a major speech by President of New Caledonia Louis Mapou on November 25, outlining his government’s priorities. Mapou is the first independentist Kanak leader to lead the government for 40 years and hopes to develop a new program to fight against economic and social inequalities in his country.

His speech focused largely on national concerns about social policy, finance, education and the post-Covid economic recovery. But Mapou also referred to regional relations, noting that “the breach of the submarine contract between France and Australia and the announcement of a new Anglo-Saxon strategic axis inevitably places New Caledonia at the heart of geopolitics French in the Indo-Pacific zone, from a diplomatic point of view. point of view. “

New Caledonian President Louis Mapou delivers a speech at the Tjibaou Cultural Center in Noumea on November 25 (Theo Rouby / AFP via Getty Images)

As a former head of the National Union for Independence (UNI) in the Congress of New Caledonia, Mapou joined other Kanak politicians in calling for an independent and sovereign nation. However, a decision on the political status of New Caledonia will not be decided on Sunday.

The call for “non-participation” in the referendum launched by independence parties, unions and customary chiefs will probably be followed by their supporters. The absence of tens of thousands of “Yes” voters – mainly Kanak – raises questions about the credibility of this crucial stage in the decolonization process.

The stubborn decision of the French government to hold the referendum in the midst of the Covid pandemic guarantees persistent tensions, 1,500 kilometers off the coast of Queensland.


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