New Caledonia: The French overseas territory that might soon become independent

By Darshan Singh Brar

OCTOBER 2020 will see the fourth independence referendum in French New Caledonia, whose results could potentially cause major changes in the geopolitics of the Pacific area.

As a run-up to this potentially historical event, we’ll be taking a look at the various topics pertaining to the islands’ history, economics, and sociology.

The provided analysis will offer the keys to better understanding the situation and the uniqueness of French overseas territories.

History of New Caledonia

James Cook’s expedition in 1774 saw the first Europeans arrive on New Caledonia’s shore, with the explorer giving the islands its modern name, but it will not be until the French Second empire that New Caledonia, after several visits by French explorers – including Lapérouse and Dumont D’Urville – is formerly made a colony the September 24, 1853.

Previous European settlement existed before this date but were mostly centred around religions missions, first English then French.

It must be noted, that the evangelisation process was the catalyst for the first violent conflicts with the local Kanak population, the missions aiming to change certain aspects of their culture.

It is, therefore, a “recent” colonisation when compared to that of France’s local rivals, with the Dutch in Indonesia in the 16th century, the Portuguese in Timor Leste (1702), the British with notably, Malaysia (1826), Australia (1788) and New Zealand (1788).

Indeed, European presence often dates further, with trading ports under control of spice companies, the founding of Christian missions, as well as limited contacts with adventurer entrepreneurs.

Importantly, the fact that France took over the islands in the 19th century is to be kept in mind, as this makes them part of France’s second colonial empire, the one created after the French Revolution, in contrast to the ones inherited from the French crown – such as Reunion island, French India, New France in the Americas, Maurice Island and the French Caribbean.

This will have important legal consequences in the future.

New Caledonia is set to go the polls for the new independence referendum on October 4. Prior to this, the most recent vote on secession from France was held on November 4, 2018 – in which voters rejected independence.

Darshan Singh Brar covers political and international affairs relating to France.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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