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French President Macron travels to Vanuatu for historic visit and warns against ‘new imperialism’

French President Emmanuel Macron during a speech in Port Vila
French President Emmanuel Macron during a speech in Port Vila Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Euronews with AFP
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French President Emmanuel Macron denounced a ‘new imperialism’ in the Pacific and reflected on his country's colonial past while visiting the small island nation Vanuatu.

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During a historic visit to Vanuatu, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called "new imperialism" in the Pacific, where the United States and China are competing for influence.

"Interference is multiplying" in Oceania, warned Macron during a speech in Port-Vila. He denounced "the emergence of new imperialisms and a logic of power that threatens sovereignty", as well as "numerous loans with leonine conditions" that "literally strangle" the most fragile countries.

Macron did not mention China by name, but Beijing is extending its trading and security ties in the region. The country is a major lender for infrastructure projects among Pacific Islands nations. And China's EXIM Bank is Vanuatu's largest creditor, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Beijing also controversially claims large parts of the South China Sea. 

The United States has responded by opening embassies in the region and signing pacts with island nations, such as a recent defence deal with Papua New Guinea. 

But despite this increased involvement, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently told reports in Papua New Guinea that Washington is not trying to establish a permanent base in the country.

The US has also increased patrols by its Coast Guard in the region. 

AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron and Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau toastAFP

France's 'Indo-Pacific strategy'

Macron's visit to Vanuatu marks the first visit by a sitting French president to an independent Pacific country. The visit to the small island nation is part of a three-country tour to underscore his nation's role in the region.

During his speech in Port-Vila, Macron also detailed his "Indo-Pacific strategy", which was relaunched last year after the cancellation of a French submarine contract with Australia.

"Our Indo-Pacific strategy is above all to defend through partnerships the independence and sovereignty of all states in the region that are ready to work with us," Macron said.

Macron also reflected on his own country's colonial past in Vanuatu, saying the brutality of that period should not be forgotten. He described France's colonial past as a period marked by "monopolising wealth and exploiting populations", " suffering and alienation" and "human trafficking".

Macron arrived on Wednesday in Vanuatu after visiting the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. He is set to continue his tour on Thursday evening by travelling to Papua New Guinea.

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