New Caledonia voted against independence from France on Sunday in a long-awaited referendum that capped a 30-year long decolonisation process for the South Pacific archipelago.
A "yes" vote would have deprived Paris of a stake in the Indo-Pacific region where China is developing its significant influence and dented the pride of a former colonial power whose reach once spanned the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Pacific Ocean.
Based on provisional results and with a participation rate of nearly 80%, the "no" vote stood at 56.9% at around 2pm (CET) on Sunday, local TV station NC La 1ere reported on its website.
"The New Caledonians have chosen to remain French... It is a vote of confidence in the French republic, its future, and its values," President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech on French television.
The referendum was the first auto-determination vote to be held in a French territory since Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, voted for independence in 1977.
Voters in the largely self-governing territory had been asked the question: "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"
Macron said he understood the disappointment of those who wanted independence but added that the French state would ensure liberty, equality, and fraternity for everyone.
"The only loser is the temptation of contempt, division, violence, and fear; the only winner is the process of peace and the spirit of dialogue," Macron said.
Some 175,000 out of the 280,000 people living on the archipelago were eligible to vote.
Posters calling for a "no" vote said that "France is the only chance" while proponents of independence urged voters to say "yes" to "a multicultural, in solidarity, peaceful nation".
New Caledonia's economy is dependable by French annual subsidies of some €1.3 billion nickel deposits that are estimated to represent 25% of the world's total and tourism.
The New Caledonia archipelago lies more than 16,700-kilometres from France. It became a French colony in 1853.