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Project May 19, 2024

France's 'More Beautiful' Pacific Empire



New Caledonia's capital of Noumea, often called the Paris of the Pacific, has been wracked by tensions in recent months, with protesters taking to the streets out of anger at ongoing French rule and France's perceived militarization of the region. Image by Lizzie Carboni. France, 2023.

The Pacific has come far from the 20th century’s decolonizing wave. Amidst America and China's deepening geostrategic competition, colonial influence is again relevant: the large French colony of New Caledonia, for example, provides a harbor for French ships and a base for its soldiers. It also holds up to a quarter of the world’s reserves of nickel and immense deposits of cobalt, both of which are critical to the production of electric cars and the global green transition, but are currently dominated by China.

Recognizing the geopolitical and commercial opportunities New Caledonia presents, French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to turn France into a Pacific power once more. But to do so, France has reneged on a decades-old pledge of neutrality and pushed against efforts at independence.