A “yes” vote for independence from France in New Caledonia’s November 4 referendum was always an uphill climb for the pro-independence forces in the French-owned South Pacific island group. Some 57 percent of New Caledonian voters, many of them white European residents of the island territory, the so-called “Caldoches,” voted against independence. Fearful for their comfortable life styles, expensive villas, foreign-owned nickel industry, and boutique tourist shops in an independent nation governed largely by the indigenous Kanak people, the Europeans ensured a “no” result. Areas of the island territory that are heavily populated by the native Kanaks overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence.
The Kanaks are in the same position as the native Hawai’ians. An influx of white Europeans from the U.S. mainland doomed any chance that Hawai’i would ever regain its independence, stolen by unscrupulous American colonizers and missionaries in the late 19th century.
French Polynesia has also seen its hopes for independence dashed by the interests of the white European settler community. Oscar Manutahi Temaru, the leader of the pro-independence Maohi people of French Polynesia, flew to New Caledonia in advance of its referendum, to campaign for a “yes” vote. Kanak and Maohi independence leaders were surprised to see a few Corsican Assembly members fly all the way from Ajaccio to assist their Kanak friends. Not all white Europeans in New Caledonia support the colonial status of the territory. In addition to Corsicans, Bretons, Basques, and Occitanians, mindful of French cultural and political imperialism in metropolitan France, rallied to support the “yes” vote for independence.
The Kanaks also received support from their fellow Melanesians. The West Papua National Committee, which is fighting for independence from Indonesia, urged all Kanaks to vote yes for independence. Support also came from political leaders in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.
While Temaru’s “Tavini Huiraatira no Te Ao Maohi” movement and New Caledonia’s “Front de Liberation National Kanak et Socialiste” (FLNKS) are united in their desire for France to sever its colonial overseer role in the South Pacific, it may be too late. These island groups, along with the French territory of Wallis and Futuna, have seen too many white Europeans, along with their tourist-oriented businesses, take up residence on the islands.
After 165 years of being a French colony, voters in New Caledonia voted “yes” or “no” on the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?” Prior to the referendum, media in Australia, most notably, that owned by neo-conservative war monger Rupert Murdoch, warned that an independent New Caledonia could fall prey to Chinese domination. The anti-China meme is being hyped by Australia as China flexes its military muscle against hostile moves by the Donald Trump kleptocracy in the Asia-Pacific region. These include provocations by the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Taiwan, South China Sea, and East China Sea.
Just prior to the New Caledonian independence referendum, the United States and Australia made two significant military moves in the region. They served two purposes. The first was a signal to China that the Western powers consider the South Pacific to be in their geo-political sphere of influence. The second was to send a message to the voters in New Caledonia that independence, as far as Washington and Canberra were concerned, was not an option.
The United States dispatched the guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup (DDG-86) to its South Pacific territory of American Samoa as a show of force in the region. Although American Samoa is 1595 miles northeast of New Caledonia, it was a rare visit by a well-armed U.S. warship to the territory. At the same time of the U.S. ship visit, Australia’s neo-conservative and evangelical Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, hammered out a naval agreement in Sydney with visiting Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Australia will redevelop the Lombrum naval base on the Papua New Guinea island of Manus. It was not a coincidence that the Australian-PNG agreement occurred while Admiral John Richardson, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, was visiting Australia. Richardson said he hoped that American Navy ships will be able to use the new naval base, alongside Australian naval vessels. The United States is currently expanding a U.S. Marine Corps training base in Darwin in northwestern Australia , as well as its presence at Tindal Royal Australian Air Force Bases in the Northern Territory.
The United States and Australia have been working to block any attempts by China to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Both countries warned that China was interested in establishing a South Pacific naval base after it agreed to invest $114 million on re-developing a World War II-era wharf in Luganville, on the Vanuatu island of Espiritu Santo. The reports of Chinese military interest in the Luganville wharf resulted in a delegation of U.S. officials, including U.S. Marines, paying a visit to the Luganville harbor master. The Americans were interested in using the deep-water wharf, redeveloped in 2016 by the Shanghai Construction Company, to accommodate a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Whereas the outcome of the New Caledonia independence referendum was never in doubt -- since the territory’s European population, coupled with pressure from Paris, Canberra, and Washington -- ensured a “no” vote, next year’s independence referendum in nearby Bougainville is another story. Scheduled for June 15, 2019, the referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea is expected to pass overwhelmingly. That has Australia and the United States concerned, with China being used, once again, as the “bogeyman.” Papua New Guinea Prime Minister O’Neill, in violation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, is beginning to drag his feet on holding the referendum. Independence is strongly opposed by Rio Tinto, Inc., the foreign owner of Bougainville’s highly-productive Panguna copper mine. Rio Tinto has at its disposal an army of lobbyists in Port Moresby, Canberra, and Washington ready to indefinitely postpone the referendum.
In the 1990s, Bougainville was plagued by the presence of foreign mercenaries fighting the pro-independence rebels on the island. Some of these mercenaries are now found working for Erik Prince, the founder of the infamous Blackwater and brother of Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. Prince’s new firm, Reflex Responses (R2), based in Abu Dhabi, is providing mercenary support to mining and oil companies interesting in quelling local rebellions where they have installations and other vested interests.
The South Pacific has always been considered a serene zone of tranquility. World War II, followed by Cold War testing by the Americans, British, and French of atomic and hydrogen bombs in the region’s waters, served as a catastrophic change for the native islanders of the region. South Pacific islanders deserve to be left alone by European colonizers and white European settlers and squatters. France should quit Kanaky, Maohi, and Wallis and Futuna. The United States should vacate Guahan (Guam), Eastern Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and Hawai’i. Australia should return to Norfolk Island its self-governance and grant the Torres Strait Islands self-determination. New Zealand must free Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, and Rēkohu (Chatham Islands). And neo-colonizers should also get the message. Indonesia should free West Papua, Papua New Guinea recognize Bougainville’s independence, and Chile grant self-determination to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
The South Pacific should be permitted to become, as its name implies, “pacific.”