Hollande says France will remain a Pacific power

French President pledges climate action

Sometimes in politics, it’s the little things that matter. On his first official visit to New Caledonia, French President Francois Hollande stood in front of two flags on the stage of the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, to present his vision for the future of the Noumea Accord. One flag was the blue, white and red tricolour of the French Republic, the other the flag of the European Union. But nowhere to be seen was the multi-coloured flag of Kanaky, the banner of the Kanak independence movement – even though all three flags fly in front of town halls and government buildings across the country. A mistake? Perhaps.

But it was a worrying symbol for Kanak leaders, who listened as Hollande stressed that France would remain a Pacific power, welcomed by its neighbours: “That wasn’t always the case in past decades. But today, they ask us to remain, because we can also help guarantee the future of the region.” After attending the G 20 meeting in Brisbane, the French President was in New Caledonia for 36 hours, before returning to Canberra for the first visit to Australia by a French President. Hollande had a hectic trip around New Caledonia: placing wreaths on the national war memorial and the graves of Jacques Lafleur and Jean-Marie Tjibaou; inaugurating the Koniambo nickel smelter in the Northern Province; attending a high level dialogue on climate change with Pacific leaders and diplomats; and holding meetings with members of New Caledonia’s Congress. In his major public address, Hollande proclaimed that the French government would remain neutral in the contest between supporters and opponents of independence: “The French State is standing beside you, allowing you to decide on your future.”

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