France to host Pacific defence ministers in New Caledonia ‘hub’ meeting

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French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu . . . meeting in line with French Indo-Pacific strategy to reaffirm its presence in the region through its three overseas territories of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. Image: RNZ Pacific

By Patrick Decloitre, RNZ French Pacific correspondent

Defence ministers from several Asian and Pacific states are scheduled to meet in New Caledonia for two days during the first week of December, French Armed Forces in New Caledonia (FANC) commander General Yann Latil announced at the weekend.

He added that French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu was also scheduled to attend.

The high-level meeting would also see the attendance of other defence ministers, including Australia’s Richard Marles, who has met Lecornu on several occasions over the past few months.

In October 2022, a previous regional meeting took place in Tonga and it included defence ministers from the host country and also from Australia, New Zealand, France, Chile, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Hosting the meeting in New Caledonia by France is widely regarded as in line with the French Indo-Pacific strategy to reaffirm its presence in the region through its three overseas territories of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna.

In this context, New Caledonia is perceived as the hub of French presence in the Pacific.

During his recent visit in New Caledonia in late July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a budget increase for the Pacific base and plans to set up a “Pacific Military Academy Military” in Nouméa to train soldiers from neighbouring Pacific island states under the principle of “partnership”.

The number of soldiers permanently posted in New Caledonia is also scheduled to increase from the current 1350 to more than 2000 by the end of 2023, General Latil told French media.

Last week, French and Japanese armed forces also concluded for the first time a three-week joint terrestrial exercise that took place in New Caledonia.

It involved about 350 French soldiers and and about 50 Japanese troops.

“This is a new step in strengthening our ties with Japan, which shares France’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” General Latil said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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