A French Pivot to Asia?

Though perhaps overlooked, France has long been an Asian power and intends to remain so in the 21st century.

A French Pivot to Asia?
Credit: dany13, Flickr

“France is everywhere in the world. And when we say we are going to the ends of the earth, I say ‘no, we are going to the ends of France.’ Vive la Polynésie française! Vive la République et vive la France!”
– President François Hollande, French Polynesia, February 22, 2016

France is a lot bigger than most people think. There are pieces of France in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean, North America, and the Pacific. Many of those French islands are in critical locations convenient for monitoring and strategic positioning. Also, each of its scattered island territories is allocated up to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). As a result, France has the second largest EEZ in the world. Its approximate 11 million square kilometers are second only to the slightly larger EEZ of the United States.

Since the end of the Cold War, and with attempts at forging a European foreign policy, Paris has kept the profile of “overseas France” fairly low. However, major changes over the last year in France’s two main territories in the Pacific, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, may shake up the whole region, and beyond. The new engagements even raise questions about the development of a possible “fourth island chain” that could fundamentally alter the strategic map of the Pacific.