Defence ministers from several Asian and Pacific States are scheduled to meet in New Caledonia for two days during the first week of December, French Armed Forces in New Caledonia (FANC) commander, General Yann Latil announced at the weekend, adding that French Defence minister Sebastien Lecornu is also scheduled to attend.
The high-level meeting would also see the attendance of other Defence ministers, including Australia’s Richard Marles, who has met Lecornu on several occasions over the past few months.
In October 2022, a previous regional meeting took place in Tonga and it included Defence ministers from the host country, but also from Australia, New Zealand, France, Chile, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
France’s hosting the meeting in New Caledonia was widely regarded as in line with its Indo-Pacific strategy to reaffirm its presence in the region through its three collectivities of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis-and-Futuna.
In this context, New Caledonia is perceived as the hub of French presence in the Pacific.
During his recent visit in New Caledonia late July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a budget increase for the Pacific base and plans to set up a “Pacific Academy Military” in Nouméa to train soldiers from neighbouring Pacific island states under the principle of “partnership”.
The number of soldiers permanently posted in New Caledonia is also scheduled to increase from the current 1,350 to over 2,000 by the end of 2023, General Latil told French media.
Last week, French and Japanese armed forces also concluded, for the first time, a three-week joint terrestrial exercise that took place in New Caledonia. It involved some 350 French soldiers and and about fifty on the Japanese side
“This is a new step in strengthening our ties with Japan, which shares France’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” General Latil said.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS