France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia will become a “colony of China” if it votes for independence this year, a leader of the island state has warned.
Philippe Gomès, the founder of the influential Caledonia Together party, issued the prediction amid rising concerns over Chinese expansionism in the region, The Telegraph reports. A yes vote in this year’s historic referendum would leave it vulnerable, he warned.
“New Caledonia is too small to be secure if it became independent…It would become a colony of China,” said Gomès, a former president of the New Caledonia government and one of its two MPs in the French National Assembly.
With a population of 270,000, the island nation lies 12,000 miles from Paris about 750 miles east of Australia. While small – around half the land mass of the Netherlands – it would be of interest to the Chinese as it is home to around a quarter of the world’s nickel deposits.
The dramatic claim by Gomès, who is a former president of the New Caledonia government, came as French president Emmanuel Macron paid his first visit to the island, where tensions are running high over the November vote.
There are mounting fears over China’s rising sway over a chain of smaller, cash-strapped Pacific states that do not receive generous French subsidies.
New Caledonia’s upcoming referendum, the last step in a three-decade-long decolonisation process, will pose the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?” Based on electoral results and recent polls, observers say a remain vote is the most likely outcome.
Macron said he would not comment on the referendum but during his electoral campaign, he made it clear he favoured New Caledonia remaining part of France.