French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken out against what he called “new imperialism” in the Pacific region during his visit to Vanuatu, marking the first visit by a sitting French leader to an independent Pacific Island state. Macron emphasized the need for a French alternative in the Pacific, where both the US and China are vying for influence. He expressed concern over the rise of imperialism in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in Oceania, and its impact on the sovereignty of smaller states. Macron specifically cited China’s expanding influence in the South Pacific, including its secretive defense pact with Solomon Islands, as a cause for concern.
In response to China’s growing influence, the United States has been offering more aid to the region, opening embassies, and signing defense deals. Macron’s warning about major powers’ ambitions in the Pacific is rooted in an acknowledgment of France’s colonial past, particularly in Vanuatu. France aims to establish itself as a balancing power in the region, with 1.6 million citizens in the Asia-Pacific and several overseas territories.
During his visit, Macron also addressed the issue of climate change, calling for international action to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. This was a key agenda item, with both Macron and Pacific leaders emphasizing the urgency of taking action to combat the effects of climate change on vulnerable Pacific Island nations.
Additionally, Macron discussed the issue of separatism during his stop in New Caledonia. He urged the pro-independence camp to accept the results of referendums in favor of remaining part of France.
Notably, Macron’s visit coincided with visits by senior US officials, highlighting the global focus on the Pacific region. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern over “predatory” Chinese investment in Tonga, while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the deployment of a US Coastguard ship to Papua New Guinea following the signing of a defense pact.
With major powers intensifying their competition for influence in the Pacific, Macron’s visit sends a strong message about France’s commitment to protecting the sovereignty of smaller states and promoting stability in the region.