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Macron Claims That France Owes Polynesians A Debt For Nuclear Tests

On a visit to French Polynesia, President Emmanuel Macron reasserted France’s position in the Pacific, in part to fight China’s growing dominance in the region.
The trip was also intended to demonstrate the government’s support for Polynesians and to mend wounds from nuclear testing on the former colony’s atolls half a world away.
Macron did not apologize on Tuesday, but he did acknowledge France’s “obligation” to Polynesians for the 1966-1996 underground and atmospheric experiments.
He promised funds for storm shelters to help the island territories adapt with climate change, as well as additional assistance in combating the virus in a region where most islands lack airports and contacting emergency services can take hours, if not days.
When Macron arrived in Tahiti, he was greeted with garlands, and singers in traditional straw skirts sang the Marseillaise on the Marquesas Islands, while Macron stood at attention in his normal suit and tie.
Polynesians “hit him to the heart,” he added, adding that Frances communities in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean are critical to the country’s geopolitical policy.
“We have a new page to write together,” he said of French Polynesia, which has had a special autonomy status since 2004 but remains under Paris’ control.
China’s ambitions for the region were crucial to this trip, as he described France’s “great luck” in having lands in the Pacific, “where everything is being written today.”
He spoke of “confrontation between large international powers” in the region, and said France is relying on alliances with Australia, New Zealand, India, and Japan that have been formed in recent years.
“Woe to the tiny ones who will be victims of hegemonic countries’ invasions,” Macron remarked.
He cautioned Polynesians to be wary of “exotic” or “adventurous” initiatives that promise work but never materialize.
China is the most important trading partner for its Asian-Pacific neighbors, who want to benefit from its thirst for industrial components, iron ore, lumber, oil, and food.
They are concerned, though, about Beijing’s exploitation of market access to press for political concessions.
France, the US, Japan, and other nations are concerned that China is attempting to build a foothold in their strategic sectors.
Macron promised that France would “defend” the fishing communities, communication networks, and other infrastructure in the region, including through increased investment.
Macron committed an additional 300 million euros ($354 million) in the framework of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as long-term funding for a medical evacuation system for outlying islands, after investing 600 million euros ($708 million) to assist businesses and health care facilities during the epidemic.
French Polynesia is made up of five archipelagos with a total of 118 islands and has a multi-ethnic population of roughly 300,000.
It has seen one of the worst virus outbreaks in the region, which many residents attribute to people arriving from continental France, notably military personnel.
Macron also announced a 50 million euro ($59 million) program to build 17 cyclone shelters, as well as an extension of the tax cut for sustainable fishing.
The pledges were mostly well-received.
The nuclear legacy of France, on the other hand, is the biggest thorn in French Polynesia’s relationship with Paris.
Notwithstanding a restriction on demonstrations due to virus worries, members of nuclear organisations assembled and urged that their concerns be addressed.
Macron promised to dispel “the lingering shadows” of France’s nuclear past.
He backed Charles de Gaulles’ decision to make France a nuclear power as “essential, visionary, and bold,” and said the country’s nuclear arsenal is more important than ever today “in the face of threatening nations.”
“We can’t say (the tests) were clean,” Macron conceded, adding that France owes “a responsibility to French Polynesia.” Macron also announced that the government will be in charge of cleaning up contaminated lands, opening government archives, appointing a permanent mediator between the state and the community on the subject, and expediting payments to local residents.
Only 186 instances out of 416 have been settled ten years after the initial compensation claims were filed, according to local authorities.

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