The French administration of Emmanuel Macron has given a strong impetus to its foreign policy in the context of the Indo-Pacific.
This is a region of the world with a long historical tradition for the geopolitical interests of the Elysée and which today has become
one of its priorities.
As explained in the 2019 document of the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, ‘France and Security in the Indo-Pacific’, France today has a population of more than 1.6 million inhabitants in its territories located in the Indo-Pacific region. This was possible since, despite the decolonization process of the second half of the last century, Paris was able to maintain some overseas territories both in the Indian Ocean, on all the islands of Mayotte and Reunion, and in the Pacific Ocean, namely the islands of Clipperton, Wallis, Futuna, the archipelago of French Polynesia, and New Caledonia. The latter, in particular, confirmed its loyalty to French sovereignty with the rejection of the referendum on its independence in the autumn of 2021.
Being territorially present in this region, Paris was able to define its own Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) off the coasts of its overseas territories both in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific, reaching numbers exceeding 9 million square kilometres, the second largest EEZ in the world. It is useful to add that the French presence in these territories also entails a significant deployment of French soldiers, around 6,800 men and women, from the eastern African coasts, with the French military base in Djibouti, passing through the Indian Ocean and ending in the Pacific.
Through its status as a medium-sized European power present in the Indo-Pacific context, Paris has established relationships with various regional players over the years. Above all, as confirmed by ‘France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy of 2022’, the bilateral partnerships with India and Japan should be underlined, above all in the field of security and defence.
The partnership with Australia instead, which until 2021 could be considered of equal level, suffered a setback with the signing of the AUKUS pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA, which provides for the provision of nuclear-powered submarines by the US and the UK to Australia.
According to Paris, Australia broke a previous agreement with the French group Naval, which would have supplied Canberra with conventional submarines. The episode created a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Canberra, so much so that the new 2022 document specifies that Paris will cooperate with Canberra only ‘on a case-by-case basis’. In addition, France has developed partnerships with multilateral organizations such as ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and smaller international organizations present in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Recently, Macron’s trip to China in early April, partly together with Ursula von der Leyen, and the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May were two relevant events for better understanding French wishes in the Indo-Pacific.
It is clear how Paris, adhering perfectly to a Gaullist vision that can be summarized in ‘friends, allies, but not aligned’ with the USA, wants in every way to avoid taking part in a potential zero-sum game between the United States and China. In the first place, Macron seems intent on not promoting, in misalignment with Washington, a cut in French trade with the People’s Republic of China, which has indeed been strengthened with various agreements signed during the trip to Beijing. Macron also spoke in favour of maintaining the status quo on Taiwan, expressed mainly in the One China policy. According to France, stability in the Taiwan Strait is essential to guarantee freedom of navigation and trade, but at the same time, it does not believe it is in Europe’s interest to risk being involved in a potential crisis between the United States and China over the sovereignty of the island. It is important to underline how Macron tries to Europeanize French interests as if when speaking of Europe, he really has in mind an exclusively French viewpoint. (Open Photo: French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaching Toulon at the end of its 4-month-long Indo-Pacific deployment. French Navy picture)