Kanak resistance rocks colonial government but Albanese stands by France

More than two weeks of resistance on the streets of Kanaky-New Caledonia has rocked the government of French President Emmanuel Macron.

He flew 16,700 kilometres from Paris to respond to the mass campaign against changes to French electoral law that would hamper the fight for Kanak independence.

There have been seven deaths since protesters erupted in anger on 13 May, among them four Indigenous Kanak people and two police. Authorities shut schools and the airport.

Rioters torched vehicles and businesses and looted stores in the territory’s biggest uprising for more than 30 years.

France declared a state of emergency and flew in 3000 cops to suppress the uprising, which was described by its high commissioner as “insurrectional”.

As one Kanak protestor told the ABC: “If you have to make noise, then sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do. Because those who face us, they are deaf to us. We have been peacefully protesting for a while, and they’ve never heard us this whole time.”

Following a brief visit, Macron promised the smallest of concessions—not to impose the voting changes by force.

But he went on to threaten to call a referendum of citizens in France and its overseas territories to approve the new law, which amends the constitution.

If passed, it would add 25,000 French residents of New Caledonia to the electoral rolls.

That would dilute the political influence of the Kanaks—who make up about 41 per cent of the 275,000 population. A vote to break from France in 2020 failed by fewer than 5000 votes.

The pro-independence Kanak party, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste or FLNKS, met Macron in the capital of the colony, Nouméa, and demanded he withdrew the electoral change and commit to meaningful dialogue.

As FLNKS spokesperson Daniel Goa had said previously, “Kanaky-New Caledonia is not a French land as some people think, but a land of Oceania. We no longer want to be stooges of ‘France Pacific’ and the nebulous Indo-Pacific axis.”

The Kanak nationalist movement has held a series of peaceful protests in recent months, culminating in a rally of more than 30,000 people on 13 April.

In an interview with the Revolution Permanente website, journalist and activist Benoît Godin said, “It must be understood that the Kanaks will never give up. Each time they had to defend their freedom and fight for the independence of their country, they responded.

“When it was necessary to vote for independence, they went massively to the polls. And when there is no other option, they take to the streets. But even then they were not heard and now things are breaking.”

Chinese influence

France seized New Caledonia as a colony in 1853 and started plundering its deposits of nickel ore and chromite some 20 years later.

The territory contains about 7.1 million tonnes of nickel reserves, about 10 per cent of the world’s total, and is the world’s fourth largest nickel producer. In 2022, the top three export destinations were China, South Korea and Japan.

Nickel is a crucial element in electric vehicle batteries and steelmaking.

But there is another reason French imperialism wants to maintain control over New Caledonia—the desire to keep Chinese influence out of the South Pacific.

France controls four territories in the region: New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, and Clipperton (which lies further to the east).

Together, France’s possessions in the Pacific control exclusive economic zones totalling 6,857,205 square kilometres—larger than Europe, excluding Russia.

This makes French imperialism a major player in Pacific politics—one that Australia is keen to keep engaged in the region. New Caledonia is in the South Pacific between Australia and Fiji.

In 2022, Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the United Nations General Assembly, “I am determined to see First Nations perspectives at the heart of Australian foreign policy.”

But as Australian journalist Nic Maclellan noted last year, “The Labor government seems to be privileging its geopolitical relations with France over its relationship with Indigenous peoples, such as the Kanak of New Caledonia …

“ALP deputy leader Richard Marles proclaimed: ‘France is our neighbour. France is a Pacific country. And as such, France deeply matters to Australia’.”

Maclellan continued, “There will now be an annual dialogue between Chiefs of Defence and a regional cooperation plan between the Forces Armées de la Nouvelle-Calédonie (FANC) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) …

“The ADF and FANC will have ‘mutual access to French and Australian defence infrastructure and step up joint exercising to strengthen interoperability in the Indo-Pacific’, including FANC joining Australia’s Talisman Sabre wargames for the first time this year.”

To drive home the point, in the federal budget this month the Albanese government allocated $20.7 million over five years, and $3.9 million a year after that, for the Australia-France Road Map.

It will fund an Australia-France Centre of Excellence in the Indo-Pacific “to support academic and professional engagement on security and defence trends to shape policymaking”.

Labor has turned its back on the fight of the Kanaks for liberation. Socialists on the other hand pledge solidarity with the Kanak struggle—we have a common enemy in imperialism.

We should draw inspiration from the Kanaks’ fight for liberation and urgently build the anti-imperialist struggle in Australia, France and across the Pacific.

By David Glanz


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