Macron’s re-election gives Australia some breathing space in the Pacific


Most of France woke up on Monday morning with a sense of massive relief: despite the presence of the far-right party for the third time in 20 years in the run-off phase of a presidential election, French voters chose to reject populism. They elected Emmanuel Macron for a second five-year term with 58.5per cent of the vote.

It’s a relief Australia should share, particularly in regard to the Pacific, a region being brought into sharper focus thanks to China’s new security pact with Solomon Islands.

French President Emmanuel Macron thumbs up after reports of his re-election.Credit:AP

Since his first election in 2017, Macron has taken a keen interest in the Pacific, and China’s intentions there. He put massive effort into proposing the construction of an “Indo-Pacific axis” to his Indian and Australian partners to curb China’s influence. Welcoming Prime Minister Morrison to the Elysée Palace in June 2021, Macron showed his Australian counterpart incredible support in the face of emerging Chinese interference, declaring: “You are at the forefront of the tensions that exist in the Indo-Pacific region, of the threats, and sometimes of the intimidation. I want to reiterate here how much we stand by your side.”

President Macron understands that the French presence in the South Pacific region is a way to contain China’s expansionary projects. Whatever one thinks about the merits of independence, the failed independence referendum last year in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, was to Australia’s advantage. Having New Caledonia sitting under the French flag means reduced Chinese influence in the South Pacific. China is by far New Caledonia’s top export destination, and its share in the archipelago’s exports is growing at an impressive pace. In 2010, China accounted for 4 per cent of New Caledonian exports; it now buys 57 per cent. New Caledonia’s main export is nickel, accounting for around 86 per cent of all exports, and it is sent mostly to China.

If France were to leave New Caledonia, it would mean an additional threat to Australia in the region. It is to Australia’s advantage to have a French president who is aware of and engaged in these calculations.

One wonders if news of the China-Solomon Islands pact made the Prime Minister doubly regret his government’s handling of the cancellation of French submarine contracts and the stress it placed on Australia’s relationship with France.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the close relationship between the Putin regime and President Xi Jinping’s government has, however, given the French leader more reason to reinforce his trilateral relationship with India and Australia as a bulwark against what Prime Minister Morrison recently referred to as the “arc of autocracy” taking shape in the 21st century.

Further, strengthening the West’s defence of democracy, Macron played a key role in the EU’s support for Ukraine, and his re-election means Australia can count on French involvement in NATO. His defeated opponent Marine Le Pen confirmed that she would pull France out of NATO’s military command in case of victory.

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