The South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia voted to remain with France on Sunday in a referendum amid China’s growing influence in the region.
The referendum saw a record 80% turnout. Voters were asked whether they wanted New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and independence.
Provisional results showed ‘No’ vote at 56.9%, local reports said.
Welcoming the results, French President Emmanuel Macron said it is a vote of confidence in the French republic, its future and values.
Pro-independence voters may be disappointed with the results. But the French state would ensure liberty, equality and fraternity for everyone, Macron said.
Indigenous Kanaks seek independence while descendants of colonial settlers want to remain with France. The ‘No’ vote won partly because of Macron’s neutral view on the results. He had also hailed Kanaks’ dignified campaign for autonomy.
Losing its foothold on New Caledonia could have been a blow to France four decades after it lost Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in a referendum.
New Caledonia has large deposits of nickel, a vital component in manufacturing electronics, and is seen by France as a strategic political and economic asset in the region.
New Caledonia became a French colony in 1853. But fighting soon broke out as interests of Kanaks were ignored by the colonial rulers. In the mid-1980s, the territory was divided between those who supported independence and those who wanted to remain French.
In 1998, it was agreed to hold a referendum on independence by the end of 2018.