France expands Pacific reach

Macron in Marquesas July 2021

The French government is expanding its engagement with Pacific Island nations, following the fifth France-Oceania summit, a visit by President Emmanuel Macron to French Polynesia, and increased support by France and the European Union for the Pacific Community (SPC) and other regional organisations.

After a visit to New Caledonia in May 2018, President Macron pledged to also visit Tahiti, to reaffirm France’s presence in the Pacific and support the government of French Polynesia, led by President Edouard Fritch. However his proposed visit in April 2020, combined with plans for a France-Oceania summit with island leaders, was delayed by the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Macron finally made the trip between 24-28 July, after visiting the opening of the Tokyo Olympic games. His tour involved brief visits to Hiva Oa in the outlying Marquesas islands (a first for a French President), a stopover in the Tuamotu archipelago, as well as meetings and ceremonies in the capital Papeete.

The visit aimed to enhance the Macron administration’s domestic and international standing. Gearing up for the French Presidential elections next April, the trip was designed to showcase his popularity at a time of widespread political criticism and protest in France: there were plenty of babies kissed as he was greeted by crowds in Papeete. Another key element was to reaffirm France’s colonial presence in the Pacific, seeking closer alignment with the ANZUS allies as part of his wider Indo-Pacific policy. Read Nic Maclellan’s coverage of the visit in our August issue.