Is New Caledonia becoming a colony of China? This is what Philippe Gomes of the Caledonia Together party predicted amid talks of New Caledonia being separated from France. Politicians and leaders left and right are now at odds for New Caledonia’s stance as it approaches a historic referendum this year.
The prediction surfaced perhaps due to observations of China’s aggressive moves of expansionism in the Pacific region, where New Caledonia is located. Voting “Yes” in the referendum will have New Caledonia achieve independence, but its limited resources will likely leave it vulnerable for powers who want new territory, such as China. While still unsupported by studies, the warning from Gomes, having both served as a former president of New Caledonia and now as one of its MPs in the National Assembly, was dire.
New Caledonia is small, especially by regional standards. The island nation is 12,000 miles away from Paris, and about 750 miles to Australia’s east. This makes it half the mass of Netherlands, which makes it still spacious for its 270,000-strong population. What can make it of interest to the Chinese, however, is that New Caledonia is home to 25-percent of the nickel deposits around the world.
The comment also came when Emmanuel Marcon, president of France, had just visited the island precisely because of the tensions. It can be remembered that the vote will finally be cast this November, and New Caledonia will either leave remaining a French territory or an independent nation.
Meanwhile, Gomes’ claims aren’t exactly unfounded, either. China has been observed to be pushing its influence towards cash-strapped states in the Pacific that don’t have a lot of French subsidies to rely on, including Vanuatu. China has already invested 60-million pounds into a wharf that can carry various warships, which implies the Chinese may in fact be interested in making a military base in the region. If this is true, then this makes it the second Chinese base abroad, with the first being in Djibouti in Africa.
The upcoming referendum for New Caledonia is in fact the final step in what appears to be its 30-year-long process of decolonization. The question to ask falls on a matter of New Caledonia actually becoming sovereign and independent. Recent polls and electoral results point towards a likely “Remain,” but only November’s vote will decide.
The United Nations has new Caledonia in its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories since 1986. The first referendum was held back then, to which the electoral vote was a resounding negative. When the Noumea Accord was signed in 1998, New Caledonia was set to hold two other referendums for independence – between 2014 and 2018. The official date of November 4, 2018 was chosen, as this was the date the Accord expires.
Under the Accord, Nouvelle-Caledonie, the state’s official name, is subject to change. In fact, banknote design, a motto, an anthem, a flag, and a name could be thought of by the new nation or as long as it is able to express their identity as the Kanak people and represent the future they are pushing for. New Caledonia has been adopting new banknote designs, a Kanak flag, and its own symbols through the years. In fact, a New Caledonia flag formed back in 2010 made the region one of the very few territories worldwide with two flags.
New Caledonia is considered a French “special collectivity” and is located in the Pacific Ocean. It’s an archipelago consisting of major parts such as the Isles of Pines, the Belep archipelago, the Chesterfield Islands, the Loyalty Islands, and the Grande Terre.
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