A major indigenous party in New Caledonia has said that if France is to have an economic and political interest in the Pacific – as China’s influence in the region becomes “pervasive” – it must grant New Caledonia a fourth independence referendum and treat the Pacific Island as a partner rather than a colony.
The calls come after a controversial independence referendum last year was boycotted by pro-independence parties, after they said holding a referendum amid a severe Covid outbreak that has hit many disproportionately the indigenous Kanak and Pasifika populations would not yield an equitable result.
“We demand a fourth vote on self-determination,” said Charles Washetine, spokesman for the independence party Palika. “We want this consultation to be organized by the UN Special Commission on Decolonization.
“We are aware of China’s great influence in the region, and of France’s interest in maintaining this strategic geopolitical and economic position.”
Palika proposes the independence of New Caledonia, while maintaining a privileged external relationship with France, and negotiating agreements on justice, security, military and commercial relations.
“Despite everything, we are linked to France… since France seems to want to be there, let’s talk about it and discuss it together,” he said.
“[This] is an exceptional opportunity for France to decolonize differently compared to Algeria or other African colonies. The world expected France to decolonize differently,” Washetine said.
“China’s omnipresence in the region is problematic. France uses the “no” of the last vote to stay. If they want to keep their economic and political influence, let’s speak as two sovereign nations and not in this unilateral way which is the continuation of the colonial balance of power.
Washetine said Australia’s cancellation of a submarine deal with France last year – which led to a diplomatic rift between the two countries – had isolated France in the region. “For this reason, let us engage in bilateral discussions and work to ensure that we protect both of our interests.”
The French territory voted overwhelmingly against independence in December, but turnout was low at 43% after pro-independence parties boycotted the vote arguing that Covid lockdown measures and traditional mourning rites Kanak made the campaign impossible.
But support for independence had grown between the last two referendums – from 43% in 2018 to 47% in 2020 – and the prospect of a breakaway had become a real possibility and a source of alarm for France. More than 40% of the population of the archipelago is indigenous.
While Palika rejects any form of integration with France as part of her vision for independence, Washetine stressed that the party wants to work in partnership with the country.
According to him, France’s interest in its former colony is both economic and geopolitical, with New Caledonia being an important part of the “Indo-Pacific axis”, a concept increasingly claimed by President Emmanuel Macron. 93% of France’s exclusive economic zone is located in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Palika wants to start negotiations on a fourth referendum after the French presidential election in April.
Loyalist parties rejected calls for a fourth vote. “We will take into account the independence voices – we cannot move forward without them and we do not want to,” said Cristopher Gyges, director of the Voices of No, a coalition of pro-France parties.
But he added: “New Caledonia must look to the future. We now want to focus on crucial issues for future generations, such as job opportunities and the environment.
The December poll aimed to conclude a process of decolonization begun 30 years earlier. It was promised to the people of New Caledonia as part of the peace process following the “Events”, a near-civil war that claimed dozens of lives in New Caledonia in the 1980s.
The agreement, called the Noumea Accord and signed in 1998, allowed long-term residents to vote on the future political status of New Caledonia and the transfer of sovereign powers over defence, foreign policy, currency, police and justice.
Washetine said the Kanak population had rebuilt their sense of identity and belonging following the repression of their culture during colonization.
“The sense of identity grows, the goal of independence is still alive… Over the years, we have built a multicultural society – descendants of prisoners from the penal colony, migrant workers, political dissidents,” he said. -he declares. “We worked to build a shared common solidarity to bring people together.
“We are the colonized population, we claim an independent nation.”