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Independent New Caledonia Can Only Survive With Chinese Support

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Independent New Caledonia Can Only Survive With Chinese Support

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The colony prepares for its third referendum on independence from France.

Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst.

New Caledonia will hold its third referendum on December 12 on whether the Pacific Island country should become independent from France. Independence will have repercussions on New Caledonia’s standard of living unless another major economy, like China, fills in the budgetary gaps that it will lose from Paris. France transferred €1.49 billion to New Caledonia in 2020, accounting for 19% of the island’s GDP. If independence supporters are successful in the third referendum, this financial mechanism would become null and void according to the French government’s document on the consequences of the referendum.

Deprived of essential financial and technical resources, New Caledonia, if separated from France, would quickly see its economy and its sovereign powers collapse as it does not have the financial, human or technical means to be independent and maintain the standard of living and development it has today.

Two realistic post-referendum scenarios emerge: either New Caledonia remains French and maintains its high standard of living compared to other nearby island countries like Fiji and Vanuatu, or it becomes independent but will be obliged to ally itself with a third country to support its way of living. In this reality, New Caledonia has two choices – Australia, the closest highly developed country to the archipelago but is only interested in pursuing pro-U.S. agendas rather than its own interests, or China, a global superpower that is interested in exploiting the rich nickel deposits on the islands and integrating it into the Belt and Road Initiative.

Independent New Caledonia Can Only Survive With Chinese Support

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If an independent New Caledonia decides to establish a major partnership with Beijing, it is likely that exports to the Asian country will astronomically rise. 55% of New Caledonia’s nickel exports in 2019 were already to China, and it is expected that if independence is achieved the percentage will further increase. This raw material already accounts for a quarter of jobs in the private sector but is worth only 6% of New Caledonia’s GDP compared to 30% in the 1970s.

However, it must be noted that other nearby Pacific Islands countries, including Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, are already being integrated into China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In this way, New Caledonia knows that China is the only country realistically capable of financing it to the same level as France, if not more. Unlike Paris, Beijing has its own economic-transportation network plan across the Pacific Islands.

In the event of independence, the French-made document on the consequences of independence outlines that the “full retention of French nationality and binationality” could not be generalized to the entire population. There will also be very few dual nationalities, if any, something that goes against what the supporters of independence have promised.

Independent New Caledonia Can Only Survive With Chinese Support

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Referendums were also held in 2018 and 2020 in accordance to the Nouméa Accord. Although the second referendum only achieved 46.74% of the vote in favor of independence, this is an improvement from 2018 where it achieved 43.33%. The next election could see New Caledonia become an independent state, which will likely mean an expulsion of European mining companies and the entrance of China to develop the archipelago and expand the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), an alliance of pro-independence political parties, announced on January 16 that they want a partnership with a “major Chinese group specializing in nickel hydrometallurgy.” In this way, pro-independence factions are already positioning themselves to have Chinese economic penetration into the country if they achieve independence.

The indigenous Kanak people account for over 40% of the population and overwhelmingly support independence. However, the remaining percentage accounts for Europeans (over 24%), mixed race people (11.3%) and others like Indonesian and Vietnamese migrants. Therefore, although the indigenous population overwhelmingly supports independence and moving economically closer to China, there are divisions among the other 60% of the population, particularly from the European communities who remain attached to France.

Although most of the decolonization process occurred during the Cold War period, it was not fully completed and many struggles continue to this day. For the Kanak people, they see the security of their independence linked to China just as many countries during the Cold War counted on Soviet support for decolonization.

When New Caledonia was annexed by France in 1853, the development of the colony became tied to settler colonialism, mineral exploitation, ranching, and the establishment of a penal colony to expropriate large tracts of native land. Issues of mineral exploitation, ranching and more rampant poverty and exclusion from the political process for the Kanak people in New Caledonia has galvanized independence movements. Although independence might be achieved in December, the reality is that a newly independent New Caledonia can only maintain its current living standards and build on it with Chinese support, something that Beijing will likely be keen to take advantage of.


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