New Caledonia caught in the middle of an Australia-France submarine spat

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If New Caledonia votes for independence, France is committed to helping the territory become an independent country. But eventually, Paris will assume less responsibility, which will create a power vacuum.

Australia is all too aware of this. He doesn’t want to push China out of another Pacific nation.

Since 2018, Australia has committed $ 3 billion for its “escalation” in the Pacific, as it belatedly responded to Beijing’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure blitz in the region.

The Australian government remains out of the referendum on the independence of New Caledonia. There is also no suggestion that China has interfered in the process.

But Canberra is starting to seriously think about the implications of a “yes” vote.

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Compared to many Pacific island countries, New Caledonia is significantly richer with much better social services.

But once France leaves, New Caledonia would need support on several fronts. This could include helping it manage the impacts of climate change as well as fending off cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, and economic and diplomatic coercion.

Australia and France are also expected to be in close contact over the next few months and years on the transition. It is important that the precarious state of the bilateral relationship does not prevent this from happening.

And if it is a “no”, it is in everyone’s interest that there be a significantly high turnout, especially among the Kanaks. Any serious question about the legitimacy of the vote could lead to instability and violence.

The pro-independence president of New Caledonia, Louis Mapou, is very aware of how the fallout from the recent AUKUS defense pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States could affect his territory. In September, Australia angered France by dropping a deal for 12 of its conventional submarines in favor of building a fleet of nuclear-powered boats using US technology as part of the AUKUS .

“The breach of the submarine contract between France and Australia and the announcement of a new Anglo-Saxon strategic axis inevitably places New Caledonia at the heart of French geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific zone by a point diplomatic view, ”Mapou said this week.

With everything going on in the region, it would not be in Australia’s best interest for a newly independent Pacific Island State to view AUKUS as an Anglo alliance formed at its expense.

But when it comes to France, Australia stays in the diplomatic freezer. Although there have been contacts between the Australian Consulate General in Noumea and the French government over the referendum, there does not appear to have been any high-level political discussions between the two countries in recent weeks.

Paris is awaiting Canberra’s proposal on how to restore relations. Morrison government maintains it did nothing wrong in ending French submarine deal, despite France blinded with AUKUS announcement and French President‘s SMS leak .

For the sake of New Caledonia and the stability of the region at large, the two countries must reconcile as soon as possible.

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