Second time may be the charm for Pacific island nation . . .
The French government has announced that France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia will hold a second referendum on independence next year. Voters in a November 2018 poll chose to remain. The precise date for next year’s poll will be decided soon, but preparations are proceeding for the second of potentially three referenda available to the territory under the 1998 Noumea Accord, signed after a deadly war for sovereignty and independence by Kanak indigenous islanders.
Shifting sentiments . . .
The Noumea Accord outlines the decolonization process of the Pacific territory, including procedures to conduct independence votes in 2018, 2020, and potentially 2022 – the latter of which would clash with France's 2022 presidential election and potentially become a politicized issue back in France. Last November’s long-promised referendum on independence saw 56 per cent choose to remain, but provincial elections in May 2019 saw the political balance shift with a slight gain in seats by pro-independence groups, leading to speculation that momentum may be shifting to the pro-independence side. Indigenous Kanak groups have long complained about being ignored economically and politically by Paris, sentiments that have spurred both the historic violence and raised the potential for future tensions if another tight vote occurs.
Increasing China’s hand . . .
New Caledonia gives France a large, exclusive economic zone within South Pacific waters, along with access to valuable nickel deposits, long eyed by China. If New Caledonia chooses to sever ties with France, it could potentially reduce French interest in collaborating in regional fora such as its Quadrilateral Defence Meetings with Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., giving increased space for other powers to fill the gap. But while fears of a pivot to China may be premature – just this week, a New Caledonian court rejected an extradition to China – decades of perceived neglect among indigenous islanders remains strong and real.
- Lowy Institute: New Caledonia’s Independence Referendum: Local And Regional Implications
- Radio France International: New Caledonia to hold second poll on independence from France
- Radio New Zealand: New Caledonia court rejects China's extradition request