NOUMEA, NEW CALEDONIA—In early May, French President Emmanuel Macron touched down in the tropical archipelago of New Caledonia following a two-day visit to Australia, the islands’ closest major neighbor, some 750 miles west across the South Pacific. Macron was more than 10,000 miles from the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Famed for its diving sites along an expansive barrier reef, New Caledonia is a French overseas territory that has enjoyed a special, semi-autonomous status for the past two decades, with certain powers gradually being transferred from France to local officials. Yet Paris retains control over critical governance areas such as foreign affairs, defense and security, and the island chain, home to some 278,000 people, still uses the Pacific Franc Exchange, the currency of France’s former colonies in the region.
These strong ties were reflected in the pageantry of Macron’s visit, his first as president. On his second day in Noumea, the capital on the main island of Grande Terre, a crowd of around 4,000 people bearing French flags gathered for a “March for France” near Moselle Bay, where pricey condominiums overlook luxury yachts. As they made their way through the streets, the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, rang out triumphantly from a sound system.