Light Wave


France’s Macron Warns of ‘New Imperialism’ in South Pacific as China’s Influence Grows

By Belal Awad · July 29, 2023

In brief…

  • President Macron's visit to the South Pacific underscores the increasing strategic importance of the region amid escalating tensions between the US and China.
  • Macron expressed France's desire to play a more significant role in the Pacific.
  • China's expanding presence in the South Pacific has unsettled Western powers, leading to increased engagement from the US and its allies.
  • France has relaunched its Indo-Pacific strategy to establish its own unique role in the region.
Emmanuel Macron looks to raise France's profile in the South Pacific as China flexes its muscles in the region.  President of the Russian Federation / Wikimedia Commonas

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the South Pacific has cast a light on the growing strategic significance of the region. Caught in a geopolitical tug of war between the U.S. and China, the South Pacific has become a focal point for global powers seeking influence, relevance and control.

Macron’s trip has also raised speculation over France’s own intentions in the Pacific region. During his visit to Papua New Guinea, for instance, Macron openly discussed a greater role for France in the face of growing Chinese regional influence. The sparsely populated atolls and volcanic archipelagos that comprise the region have emerged as a geopolitical flashpoint amid the ongoing US-China power struggle.

According to Macron, “The global order is completely disturbed by the willingness of new imperial powers jeopardizing this rule-based order, and this new imperialism is the basis of a new colonialism… The French strategy is clearly to build with you the defense of this liberty of sovereignty in the region.”

China’s presence in the South Pacific has grown significantly in recent years, unsettling the West. Last year, Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China, raising fears China will establish a military base in the area in order to promote its contested claims over the South China Sea. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s recent visit to Beijing only reinforced those fears.

In response, the U.S. has initiated a series of joint military exercises with Australia, while reestablishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies across the Pacific region.

France has relaunched its own Indo-Pacific strategy, seeking to carve out a unique role in the region. The move underscores divisions among Western allies and is a reminder of the bitter 2021 row over the cancelled submarine contract between Australia and France.

Meanwhile, the South Pacific region continues to gain geopolitical importance, as its small island nations find themselves at the center of a complex global chessboard.