Sunday, April 16, 2017
Article: France dives back into the South Pacific (TheWorld Today)
After a relatively quiet period, Paris is re-energizing its maritime empire, particularly in the Pacific. In the past year alone, there have been huge military sales, paradigm-shifting diplomatic initiatives, and unusual visits by French political leaders to far-flung islands. The first question is why? The second question is: what does that mean in the context of China’s growing role as a Pacific maritime power?
France has impressive global reach. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, every qualifying island can claim up to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). France has islands all over the world that qualify, including the Pacific territories of New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna.
The full tally of islands means France has the second largest EEZ in the world, around 11 million square kilometres, second only to the slightly larger EEZ of the United States. There are dots of France all over the globe, many in critical locations convenient for effective monitoring and strategic positioning.
Paris’s attitude towards her extremities tends to change over time, and is a by-product of core concerns. Take the evolving view of French Polynesia. It consists of more than 100 islands and atolls, including Tahiti and Bora Bora, spread out over the central southern Pacific and covers an enormous area, with an EEZ of 4.8 million sq km, about twenty times the total land mass of the United Kingdom.
For some of France’s post-Second World War leaders, fixated as they were with spectre of a nuclear conflict in Cold War Europe, the remoteness of the overseas territories represented a potential safe zone where leadership could retreat, and regroup. Charles de Gaulle’s concept of a ‘dispersed France’ viewed the ‘French territories in the furthest oceans’ as being crucial for the survival of the state should ‘European’ France be devastated, or become indefensible. While France decolonized other possessions, the ones in the Pacific were held on to very tightly indeed.