‘Macron-ising’ the Pacific

As French President Emmanuel Macron visited Australia and New Caledonia in May, France consolidated its standing across the Pacific. President Macron strengthened defence ties with the Turnbull Government, reinforced anti-independence sentiment in New Caledonia and charmed Forum island leaders at a climate dialogue in Noumea. Meanwhile, President Edouard Fritch won a convincing victory in local elections in French Polynesia, while Wallis and Futuna is mounting a bid to upgrade its status within the Pacific Islands Forum, from observer to associate member. Islands Business correspondent Nic Maclellan surveys these shifts across the francophone Pacific.

Strategic ties to Australia For some time, Australian governments have seen France as a valuable partner in the Pacific, bolstering the ANZUS alliance against growing influence from China and other “non-traditional” partners. As he welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron to Australia last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made it clear that he sees France as a long-term ally in the Pacific.

“France is a Pacific power,” said Turnbull. “It is a Pacific nation and its significant presence in the region can only bring benefits to Australia and to the region more broadly. We welcome that and we’ll continue to work closely with France in our region.”

Emphasising “joint sacrifices on the battlefield,” from World War I to Iraq and Syria, Prime Minister Turnbull argued: “Australia and France are forces for good in the world.”

The two leaders signed a “Vision Statement on the Australia-France Relationship.” The new partnership focusses on global rather than regional concerns, dominated by the South China Sea, North By Nic Maclellan Macron the ‘arms dealer’ aboard HMAS Canberra in Sydney Harbour. Photo: Defence Department Korean nuclear proliferation, military deployments in Iraq and Syria, cyber-cooperation, and partnerships in technology, counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing.

This enhanced cooperation is focussed on defence and security across the wider Indo-Pacific region. The concerns of the Kanak and Maohi peoples rank relatively low and there was no talk of decolonisation during the many public ceremonies.

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