Riots in New Caledonia: While Paris condemns Azerbaijan's intervention, China is ready to benefit

Riots in New Caledonia: While Paris condemns Azerbaijan's intervention, China is ready to benefit

Recent riots in New Caledonia have ignited condemnation from Paris, as French authorities accuse Azerbaijan of meddling in the region's affairs. However, analysts speculate that China may ultimately reap the rewards of the unrest, capitalizing on the potential destabilization of French influence in the area. Frédéric Grare, a Senior Policy Fellow at the Asian Program of the European Council on Foreign Relations, explores this dynamic in his article "Rebellion in Paradise," published in the journal *International Politics and Society* (IPG).

Grare contends that the fragile situation in the archipelago has created an opening for foreign intervention, often preceding bouts of civil unrest. The French government, in particular, has rebuked alleged involvement by Azerbaijan. In July 2023, Azerbaijan initiated the establishment of the Baku Initiative Group (BIG) to support liberation movements against French colonialism. Subsequently, a Memorandum of Understanding was inked between the Congress of New Caledonia and the Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan on April 18. Azerbaijani flags adorned pro-independence rallies prior to the eruption of violence, with BIG vocalizing solidarity with the Kanak people and denouncing "French repression."

While foreign interference may not directly trigger unrest, it serves as a catalyst for external agendas. Grare draws parallels between Baku's actions in New Caledonia and Russia's anti-Western maneuvers elsewhere, including support for independence movements. Pro-Putin posters have surfaced at independence demonstrations, and anti-French rhetoric propagated on social media mirrors Russian narratives. Russia's backing of independence causes, heightened since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, aligns with its broader geopolitical ambitions, leveraging regional instability to advance its interests.

Experts posit that China stands to gain significantly amidst the turmoil. Beijing seeks to challenge Western dominance in the South Pacific, aiming to expand its political, economic, and military foothold. China actively courts island states on issues spanning Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, human rights, and maritime disputes. Additionally, Beijing eyes the region's natural resources, undertaking infrastructure projects with potential dual military applications.

Following a security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022, China pursues similar agreements with other island states. Discussions about financial support for New Caledonia signal Beijing's strategic interest, with talks on potential security cooperation underway.

China's strategy hinges on isolating island states from Western influence, exploiting unrest to discredit French and Western presence. New Caledonia's nickel reserves are of particular interest, as Beijing views the weakening of French influence as advantageous to its regional ambitions.

The implications extend beyond France's interests, amplifying uncertainty in an already volatile region. Paris and allies seek a swift resolution, but the complexity of issues complicates efforts. Restoring law and order remains paramount, with both sides urged to compromise to initiate a trust-building process.


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