French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit will only be useful to Vanuatu if he accepts for France to return our two islands — Matthew and Hunter, says Johnny Koanapo, Vanuatu Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanna, Tafea Province.

The French President is expected to arrive in Vanuatu on Wednesday.

“After over seven decades of joint colonisation of New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) by former imperial powers, Britain and France, our independence was not without the struggle of our forefathers,” the outspoken MP said.

“When they eventually conceded to grant us our political independence, they left our shores with the Britain relinquishing everything, while France decided to illegitimately retain significantly huge piece of our maritime boundary including the two islands of Mathew and Hunter.

“France’s bilateral assistance cannot in any way compensate for what they have taken from us. The recent article carried in Daily Post issue 6817 compiled by Dr Antoine Bondaz (Director of the Indo-Pacific Observatory at the Paris-based Foundation pour la recherche-the main French thinktank on Security and International Affairs) is trying to make sense of a lot of drivel, ignoring what France has not really done for those countries they had colonised in the Pacific, especially Vanuatu.”

MP Koanapo said Macron has a number of issues to address during his visit to Vanuatu.

“Firstly, President Macron should declare that Mathew and Hunter are an integral part of Vanuatu and therefore should direct that processes are done by the two countries to finalise the delimitation of our maritime boundaries,” he said.

“The indigenous people’s of New Caledonia have made that declaration through their Customary Senate. We do not have to fight all the way to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and bear the costs to reclaim what is ours. Our ancestors from TAFEA Province had been travelling to these islands long before the Traders, missionaries and colonisers thought they had discovered our islands and started arbitrarily drawing their own boundaries without even considering that we had existed from time immemorial.

“Secondly, the President must do more to assist the development of French language in our schools in the country. The same applies to Britain. They both must feel a sense of obligation. They had left a huge vacuum in the relationship for a long period of time.

“Thirdly, France must be more sincere and draw its weight behind our efforts to get us out of the grey list and black list instigated mostly by European Union for which France is an integral and a powerful member. They have the capacity to do that.”

The MP said these three issues are critically important, adding, “…if President Macron cannot precisely address these issues through what they presumably are thinking of as ‘Port Vila Declaration,’ then this visit will be absolutely futile and will not mean anything to anybody in this country”.

“Based on the article by Dr Bondaz, how do we see France as a Sovereignty enhancer when they have not yet fully relinquished our sovereign maritime boundary, which is the reason why we have registered this dispute with the United Nations (under UNCLOS),” he said.

“It is clear that if France was the only colonial power we had, we will still be crying for political independence today.

“In light of their Indo-Pacific strategy, how do they expect us as sovereign states to cooperate with them and continue to maintain amicable relations when they cannot listen to our interest? All we have been asking since 1980 is for France to relinquish control of our two islands so we can fully take control of the harvest of our marine resources and make up for our much needed revenue and allow our people to meaningfully practice their cultural rights through special ceremonies linked to these islands.

“France’s control of our huge maritime boundary down south has significantly restricted our fishing space over the last 43 years, which is a loss of revenue for those years, which France’s bilateral development assistance cannot adequately compensate for. This coupled with the EU sanctions, and the recent UK cancellation of Visa free status, will continue to severely undercut our revenue opportunities.”

Koanapo said France has the second biggest maritime space in the world after the United States, and yet they see it fit to rob and choke a small island state of its sovereignty and its resources.

“This is absolute injustice. We have nothing against France, but the manner in which they have conducted themselves against us is unacceptable,” he said.

“This is now the right time for the country to seriously think about how we start to re-align our foreign policy and prioritise our relations based on our national interest for our sovereignty and development.

“Finally having stated these important issues, it is clear that we have not seen a brave French President like Macron who has visited numerous African countries and boldly make statements to apologise for what imperial France has done to them during the period of French colonisation.

“This is admirable of the President. It is in this context, that our expectations are for President Macron to do the same here and rectify the mistakes of the colonial past. Only if this happens, we can celebrate the 43 years of Independence with the true meaning of independence and completeness. In the absence of this, this trip will be deemed as fruitless,” he said.