French President Emmanuel Macron denounced “new imperialism” in the Pacific during a landmark visit to the region on Thursday, warning of a threat to the sovereignty of smaller states.
“There is in the Indo-Pacific and particularly in Oceania new imperialism appearing, and a power logic that is threatening the sovereignty of several states — the smallest, often the most fragile,” he said in Vanuatu.
Macron — on the first visit by a sitting French leader to an independent Pacific state — sought to underscore France’s importance in a region over which China and the United States are competing for military, economic and diplomatic influence.
“Our Indo-Pacific strategy is above all to defend through partnerships the independence and sovereignty of all states in the region that are ready to work with us,” Macron said.
France has 1.6 million citizens in the Asia-Pacific across seven overseas territories, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia, and an exclusive economic zone spanning nine million square kilometres (3.5 million square miles).
As the United States and its allies seek to counter China’s growing sway in the region, France offered an “alternative”, a presidential advisor said, with plans for expanded aid and development to confront natural catastrophes.