Macron offers the Pacific a third option (France)

French President Emmanuel Macron is, like any self-respecting European, on a summer trip. His official tour to the Pacific Islands this week includes a first-ever visit by a French president to an independent country in the region.

Macron’s itinerary is taking him to New Caledonia (a French territory) plus Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Why’s Paris so interested in the other side of the world?

  • 👪 It’s got hundreds of thousands of citizens in three territories there (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis & Futuna)
  • 🗺️ Due to its Pacific territories, France has the world’s second largest Exclusive Economic Zone to protect (after the US)
  • 🛢️ French energy giant Total also has several projects in the region, including a prospective gas field off the coast of PNG, and
  • 🗳️ France is wary of secessionist sentiment in New Caledonia, where another independence vote failed in 2021 amidst a boycott.

So France clearly has interests in the region. But Macron’s visit was also about projecting France as a world power with something to offer the region more broadly: a third option amid US-China competition.

Intrigue’s take: The current focus on the Pacific is startling: this week alone, the US Secretary of State has opened an embassy in Tonga, and the US Secretary of Defense has visited PNG, weeks after India’s PM was there. Plus, China’s foreign minister toured eight Pacific states in 2022, while Australia’s foreign minister has now visited all 18 Pacific Island Forum nations.

So that’s the context into which Macron has flown. The question is whether a presidential visit every five years is enough to keep up.

Also worth noting:

  • In lieu of President Macron, Fiji received its first-ever visit by a French foreign minister this week. Fiji’s PM had earlier tweeted about his French ties, including once saving a French soldier.
  • Meanwhile in New Caledonia yesterday (Wednesday), Macron warned that local independence could mean a “Chinese naval base tomorrow… Good luck, that is not called independence.”