In French Polynesia, Macron tackles virus, China's ambitions
PAPEETE, French Polynesia (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron is visiting French Polynesia to showcase France’s commitment to the region amid concerns about the impact of climate change on the Pacific island territory, the legacy of French nuclear testing on its atolls — and most of all, growing Chinese dominance in the region.
He started his trip Saturday night in Tahiti with a visit to a hospital and an appeal to get vaccinated against the virus. With the world’s eyes on the Tokyo Olympics, Macron will also discuss Tahiti’s role as host of Olympic surfing competition for the 2024 Paris Games.
The trip is aimed at reinforcing France's geopolitical presence in the Pacific. Macron was greeted with an 'orero, a traditional declaration by a respected storyteller, as he arrived in Tahiti’s main city Papeete — 12 time zones away from Paris.
He may also face protests. Local activists held two demonstrations this month over long-standing demands for compensation, and an apology, over the underground and atmospheric nuclear tests carried out from 1966-1996. A Polynesian collective angry over French government plans to require health passes at restaurants and other venues also has threatened unspecified action.
Over four days, Macron will visit four sites spread out across an ocean territory that’s as large as Europe.
With a multi-ethnic population of about 300,000, the former French colony is made up of five archipelagos with a total of 118 islands. Since 2004, it has autonomous status, defined as “an overseas country within the republic” which “is governed freely and democratically, by its representatives.”
But Macron is still its head of state, and the long-awaited visit is part of what his office calls his “Tour de France” aimed at reaffirming “our proximity to overseas...