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Opinion

French New Caledonia

READER'S VIEWS - The Freeman

“Voulez-vous que la Nouvelle-Calédonie?” In English: Do you want New Caledonia to attain full sovereignty and become independent? This was the question on the ballot in the December 12, 2021 referendum to be answered by yes or no. A total of 96.50% of valid votes or 75,720 Caledonians rejected independence. French president Emmanuel Macron celebrated the result adding that France is “more beautiful because New Caledonia has decided to stay part of it.” But only 43.87% of the 184,364 registered voters had cast their ballot because the indigenous Kanak population wanted the referendum to be postponed. They feared the vote would desecrate their year-long mourning rituals for the 280 COVID-19 deaths.

In 1853, France, under the order from Emperor Napoleon III, annexed New Caledonia as a penal colony for 22,000 criminals and political prisoners. French and other Europeans and Polynesian settlers made the indigenous Kanak a minority in their own country. They were excluded from the economy and had to work as slaves in the rich nickel mines. Violent revolts were crushed culminating in the 1987 Ouvéa Cave hostage taking and ensuing massacre.

Since 1996, the United Nations’ Committee on Decolonization has included New Caledonia in the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. In the following year’s independence referendum 98.3% of Caledonians voted for remaining a part of France.

In accordance with the 1998 Nouméa Accord New Caledonians were allowed three referendums. In 2018 and 2020 they also rejected independence by 56.7 and 53.3% respectively. Last year’s referendum makes all Caledonians French citizens. They are represented in the French parliament by two deputies and two senators. They are also represented in the European parliament.

New Caledonia is among the 20 richest countries. The Gross Domestic Product per capita is a respectable 35 US?, although there is significant inequality in income distribution.

For the Philippines of importance is that France’s strong military power can keep away ever-covetous China from the large Exclusive Economic Zone that New Caledonia generates. Instead of buying from China galunggong stolen in the Philippine’s EEZ, our government should rather strengthen trade ties with New Caledonia. Apart from that it is reassuring that China cannot bully into submission or exploit French islands as they did with independent Kiribati where they refurbished an airstrip and are building a naval base.

Xi Jinping’s China is seeking “strategic partnership” with the eight Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG) Islands Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Solomon, East Timor, West Papua, Papua New Guinea and --represented by the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front-- New Caledonia. In all these island states Chinese are not welcome or squarely kicked out. Since the defeat of the independence movement in the referendum the New Caledonians will leave the MSG. China’s hopes of influence taking are dashed again.

Erich Wannemacher

Lapu-Lapu City

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