New Caledonia, Cornerstone of an Ambiguous French–Australian Relationship
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France, through New Caledonia, constitutes Australia’s third-closest neighbour, and this French overseas community in the South Pacific has become a cornerstone of the French–Australian bilateral relationship. However, the legitimacy of the French sovereignty over New Caledonia, based on a conflicted colonial history, has been challenged both internally—by a strong pro-independence Kanak movement—and externally—by Oceanian public opinion, especially in Australia. In response, French policy-makers have conducted thirty years of institutional, political, economic and social reforms to provide the archipelago with the largest autonomy possible within the French republican frame. New Caledonia has increasingly become a strategic topic for all its neighbours in the pursuit of their own interests. The ongoing condemnation of France’s presence in the region has partly come from Oceania’s ideal of regional cohesion, solidarity and destiny, based on independence from former colonial powers. This drive obliged Australia to take a position against France in order to strengthen its own legitimacy. New Caledonia has proven to be, at the same time, the source of vivid tensions between Canberra and Paris and the mirror of their own strategic ambiguities. Yet, New Caledonia currently represents one of the cornerstones of the strong cooperation that France and Australia have established for the stability of the South Pacific. This chapter examines the reasons for this positive shift and how has the 2018 referendum on New Caledonia’s self-determination affected the French–Australian bilateral relationship.
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