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New Zealand, France and New Caledonia: Changing Relations and New Caledonia's Road to Independence

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posted on 2021-11-12, 20:09 authored by Bradley, Sarah

Despite broadly positive relations between New Zealand and France, New Zealand’s ties with New Caledonia remain largely underdeveloped. This situation endures regardless of efforts in the last decade by the New Caledonian and New Zealand governments to improve relations. In 2011, if asked, most New Zealanders would not know that French was the language spoken by their closest neighbour. In addition, very few New Zealanders travel to New Caledonia to take a holiday. Although exports to New Caledonia are strong, not many New Zealand businesses set up operations in New Caledonia even though there are significant opportunities. Conversely, more New Caledonians travel to New Zealand for holidays than New Zealanders go to New Caledonia. From a trade perspective, New Caledonia exports very little to New Zealand. The trade balance is vastly in New Zealand’s favour. Over the past decade, New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministers have focussed on the growing opportunity to develop the relationship and have visited New Caledonia several times, accompanied by business and government delegations. The New Caledonian government has responded with similar missions and in 2007 the ‘New Caledonia Cultural Season’ was held in New Zealand. This year-long celebration included a museum installation about New Zealand’s deployment in New Caledonia during World War II, a series of trade and diplomatic meetings and a number of cultural performances. Arising out of two conferences held during the Season, one in New Caledonia and one in France, was a book of essays examining the relationship called “New Zealand-New Caledonia: Neighbours, Friends, Partners”. This book, with some essays written in French and some in English, looks at a number of links between New Zealand and New Caledonia, including religion, literature, trade and security. It offers an excellent starting point for the question posed in this thesis and will be widely referenced. What explains why New Zealand’s relations with New Caledonia have struggled despite the continued development of a warm bilateral relationship with Paris? Ultimately it lies with a lack of strategic interests binding the two neighbours and their historical allegiances to competing colonisers. This thesis will examine the relationship of the Pacific neighbours in three parts: first their political history and association, second their cultural bonds and barriers and finally their trade relationship. It is only since the 1990s that France has encouraged New Caledonia to chart its own political course. As a result, New Caledonia is finding its feet politically and is making an effort to become more involved in the region. Prior to this, the historical implications of New Caledonia being settled by France and New Zealand being settled by England created an enduring barrier. It was a close run situation in that New Zealand itself could well have become a French colony. This is largely based on confusion between politics and religion: the Catholics were interested in converting Polynesia in competition with the London Missionary Society. The French government in the 1840s was more concerned with what was called the conquest of Algeria. Nevertheless, the legacies of these allegiances to their respective colonial powers mean that linguistic, political and economic borders have been established over 150 years. These have restrained the relationship. While France and New Zealand have established national identities, New Caledonia is in the process of finding its own. New Zealand has for several decades thought of itself as its own nation and not as a nation of British subjects living in the South Pacific, although around one tenth of New Zealanders carry a British passport. In addition, Māori are becoming more self-aware of their cultural roots and this adds to the sense of New Zealand’s emancipation from the United Kingdom. It is only since the 1998 Nouméa Accord that New Caledonians have begun to think of themselves as something other than French citizens living in the South Pacific. In a similar way to the New Zealand Māori, the Melanesian Kanaks in New Caledonia are also in the process of reaffirming their identity and their emancipation from France. Because of the different timelines of establishing these national identities, New Caledonia’s direct relationship with New Zealand is still relatively immature. It is however developing and this can be illustrated by the imminent appointment of the first New Caledonian representative in charge of promoting exchanges between New Zealand and New Caledonia inside the French Embassy in New Zealand. It must be noted that this appointment is, as of May 2011, in flux because of the lack of a stable New Caledonian government. It appears that New Caledonia puts in more effort than New Zealand to develop and nurture the political relationship. A case in point is a recent report from the New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee (FADTC) on the South Pacific, which does not include any reference to New Caledonia or French Polynesia even though they are two of New Zealand’s biggest Pacific Island trading partners. The official language in New Caledonia is French. In New Zealand it is English (although both places have many other languages spoken and understood). While physically close (New Caledonia is New Zealand’s nearest neighbour), culturally the two are poles apart. One would ask at this point why is there this cultural block when France and New Zealand have the same language barriers, and yet have the strongest relationship they have possibly ever had? Partly it can be argued that the strategic importance of France to New Zealand is greater and thus more of an effort is made to overcome the cultural barriers.  While France and New Zealand have common interests in respect of politics, defence and trade, New Caledonia and New Zealand have not yet developed their relationship to the same extent in these areas. New Zealand is ostensibly an open market but New Caledonia is still a highly protected French collectivity. Because of the protection afforded it, its industry has become lackadaisical and uncompetitive. On the other hand, those New Caledonian businesses that want to export to New Zealand face strict bio-security non-tariff barriers. It is these barriers, which cause New Caledonian officials to question New Zealand’s so called free-market economy. While the trade relationship between New Zealand and New Caledonia is one-sided in New Zealand’s favour, it is showing signs of improving and becoming more balanced. As this trade relationship develops and becomes more strategically important for both places, it can be expected that the other two parts of the relationship - the political and cultural relationships - will also be given more attention. This thesis examines the underdeveloped relationship between New Zealand and New Caledonia in contrast to the strong and developed relationship New Zealand has with France. It will therefore look at the historical relationship between New Zealand and France, the major hiccups in that relationship and the gradual rebuilding of it to put in context the New Zealand-New Caledonia relationship. In addition, the thesis will give a background of New Caledonia leading up to the Matignon Accords in 1988 and the Nouméa Accord in 1998, two key treaties which have paved the way for the beginnings of New Caledonia’s emancipation from France.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of International Relations

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Capie, David