French Relations

in the South Pacific

by W.S. McCallum © 1991-1993


1. Consolidating Existing Ties: France and the South Pacific in the 1990s

2. Franco-Fijian Détente - Cheque Book Diplomacy?

3. The Polynesian Connection - the Cook Islands and France

4. The Rocard Visit to New Zealand - symbol of rapprochement

5. The Andriès Arrest: The View from France

1. Consolidating Existing Ties: France and the South Pacific in the 1990s

Naval Base, Nouméa, New Caledonia

W.S. McCallum

    On 11 May 1993 readers of The New Zealand Herald encountered a large picture on page one depicting a French sailor hoisting a tricolour, with Auckland harbour as backdrop. The event was the arrival of the Jacques Cartier, paying the first visit to New Zealand by a French naval vessel since before the French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland's port in July 1985. The port call was hailed in the national media, and by the National Government, as indicative of the extent to which Franco-New Zealand relations had improved since the days of l'affaire Greenpeace.

    Although given great prominence, the visit by the Jacques Cartier was by no means the first example of the improvement since 1985 of contacts between the two countries. In April 1991, Prime Minister Michel Rocard made the first visit by a French head of government to New Zealand The trip, which included an apology for the Rainbow Warrior incident, was considered in Wellington and Paris to be a major step forward in bipartite relations. Franco-New Zealand military cooperation in the Cook Islands since 1990 has not received as much prominence, despite constituting a major development. The Cook Islands are an autonomous state with close ties to New Zealand. In September 1990, French Navy jets began regular surveillance sweeps over the Cooks' waters, a responsibility which had formerly rested solely with the RNZAF. This French military assistance was invaluable to the Cooks, as its government had but one patrol boat with which to police about 2 million square kilometres of EEZ. New Zealand assented to this French military presence as a useful supplement to its own surveillance, and in February 1991 participated in a joint patrol with France and the Cooks.

    Such French entente cordiale in the South Pacific has tended to be obscured by media attention focussing on diplomatic differences with regional states over nuclear testing in French Polynesia. Much prominence has been given to discord between France and South Pacific states over these tests. A widespread perception, expressed by Keith Suter in 'French Testing in the South Pacific' (Contemporary Review September 1992), is that disharmony over nuclear testing has represented an unassailable barrier to the development of close French relations with the region "France has been a military power in the South Pacific, but not a South Pacific nation. Its nuclear testing has alienated too many nations for it to develop close ties. If the testing were to stop permanently and France were to retain its colonies, it has an opportunity to develop closer ties with the surrounding nations." This article questions the validity of these assertions. It will be demonstrated that nuclear testing has not been the overriding factor in French relations with the South Pacific, and that testing has not been as disruptive to those relations as might be imagined.

    France cannot, for geographic reasons alone, strictly be a South Pacific nation. Yet France possesses, and aims to maintain, a South Pacific presence. There is no indication that Paris will shortly relinquish its three Pacific territories. No majority demand exists for decolonisation from the inhabitants of either French Polynesia or Wallis and Futuna. In New Caledonia, the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) advocates independence, but this coalition does not enjoy the support of an absolute majority of the territorial electorate. It requires such backing to gain independence via a self-determination referendum administered according to the dictates of French constitutional law. Paris is content to continue its financial commitment to its overseas possessions to maintain a global strategic presence. This broad goal predates the commencement of nuclear testing in French Polynesia, and will persist in the eventuality of testing there being abandoned.

    French nuclear testing has not necessarily alienated South Pacific nations to the extent of crippling wider French relations in the region. New Zealand and Australia, for example, have been careful not to antagonise Paris too greatly for fear of trade reprisals; specifically, the opposition of access for their meat and dairy products to the EC. Trade considerations weighed heavily on the New Zealand Labour Government's acceptance in 1986 of the release of the French agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur from New Zealand prisons to internment on Hao Atoll in French Polynesia. Their repatriation undermined Prime Minister David Lange's repeated claims in 1985 that their release was not open to negotiation and that New Zealand justice would take its course, free of political interference. Financial considerations have similarly limited Canberra's actions against French nuclear testing. In June 1983 Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced the suspension of Australian uranium shipments to France, in order to signal the Labor Government's dislike of French nuclear testing. By August 1986, the Labor Government had announced the end of the uranium embargo and its intention to resell to France stocks it had purchased from Australian companies affected by the ban. Paul Keating, then Treasurer, declared that this measure was motivated by the need to fill the Government's budget deficit. Australia recommenced supply of uranium to France at the same time as continuing to issue its regular protests about French nuclear testing.

    Indications of a détente between France and the South Pacific since the suspension of French nuclear tests in April 1992 are not difficult to find, but substantial signs existed before that date that Paris was not irreconcilably outcast from the region because of its test programme. The above-mentioned EEZ surveillance involving France, the Cook Islands and New Zealand provides evidence of ties which dispel the image of France as a South Pacific military power estranged from the region. Vanuatu and Fiji were also the grateful beneficiaries of French naval expertise before the test suspension. Since June 1990, French Navy jets have regularly patrolled Fijian waters. Vanuatu arranged for France to patrol its EEZ in February 1992. In both cases, these operations are conducted in conjunction with surveillance assistance from the RAAF and/or the RNZAF. This military cooperation is an extension of links provided by regular French warship calls to island states throughout the region during the 1980s and before. Only rarely have these visits been disrupted by island government opposition to nuclear testing, as occurred in February 1986, when Tuvalu refused entry to a French warship.

    South Pacific nations have not been uniformly vigorous in expressing regional anti-nuclear sentiment. Tonga, ruled by a conservative monarchy, has been a reluctant subscriber to regional anti-nuclear policy. Tonga refused to sign the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty in August 1985, asserting that it could disrupt US nuclear defence, and has shown a deferent attitude to French nuclear testing. The Tongan monarch, King Tupou IV held that, although the region might be worried about safety considerations, France was justified in maintaining its nuclear defence system. In August 1987, King Tupou IV and Prime Minister Pupuke Robati of the Cook Islands visited the test site of Moruroa, and returned stating that they were satisfied with safety measures there. During the 1980s and into the 1990s Cook Islands prime ministers have tended to less enthusiastic than other Forum leaders about criticising French tests. In March 1992, a month before the announcement of the French test suspension, Prime Minister Geoffrey Henry described anti-nuclear protests as "silly, a waste of time and energy". It is not merely coincidental that the Cooks and Tonga have endeavoured since the early 1980s to improve their French cultural, commercial and aid links. Outspoken statements against testing might be ill-considered by officials in Paris and Papeete considering loans and other forms of development assistance.

    France has no need to create a fresh set of relationships with the South Pacific in the 1990s, given that the set it already possesses was progressing well before its test suspension. During that time, none of the members of the South Pacific Forum, a grouping of 15 independent and self-governing states in the region, allowed opposition to nuclear testing to develop to the extent of permanently disconnecting relations with Paris. Rather than providing a presumed starting point, the suspension of testing in French Polynesia allowed France the opportunity to improve its already well-established network of links with states in the region. To the contrary of becoming isolated from the South Pacific during the 1980s because of its nuclear testing, France expanded its diplomatic network in the region. In 1980, resident ambassadors were posted for the first time to Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji and to the newly-independent state of Vanuatu (formerly the Franco-British Condominium of the New Hebrides).

    The Port Moresby embassy was periodically the scene of anti-nuclear and anti-colonial protests. Various PNG governments expressed their rejection of nuclear testing, and policy conduct in New Caledonia, via the embassy. The post survived these minor tribulations, only to be closed in 1991 as a result of austerity measures at the Quai d'Orsay. Nonetheless PNG subsequently showed the positive regard it held for growing trade and aid links with France. In March 1992 the Foreign Affairs Minister, Sir Michael Somare, announced the establishment of an embassy in Paris.

    The French embassy in Fiji has been a centre for expanding regional links with France. During the 1980s, the French ambassador in Suva received accreditation to Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru and initiated French aid programmes in those islands. In March 1990, the embassy set up a trade commission to oversee the expansion of activity between island states and the French Pacific territories. France redistributed its regional aid to Fiji's benefit. Whereas in 1980 Vanuatu had been the sole major recipient of French foreign aid in the South Pacific, by July 1991, Fiji was receiving around one third of this aid, according to Jacques Leblanc, the French Permanent Secretary to the South Pacific.

    During the two coups d'état by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, France created substantial good will in Suva when, unlike New Zealand and Australia, it maintained relations with the nascent Fijian Republic. That year, Australia and New Zealand suspended their aid for several months, in protest against the ousting of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra, and the overturning of links with the Commonwealth when Rabuka declared a Republic in September 1987. While this aid was suspended, in October 1987 two French patrol boats made port calls to Suva and carried out manoeuvres with a Fijian naval vessel. In January 1988, France announced an aid package to Fiji that included 53 Renault trucks and an Ecureuil helicopter which were put into service with the Fijian Army. While Australian and New Zealand civil aid was restarted from 1988, these countries' military cooperation with Fiji remained suspended until 1992, when full relations were restored under the assumption that Fiji was moving toward democratisation.

    Franco-Fijian military cooperation has not been adversely affected by this thaw in New Zealand and Australian relations with Suva. In March 1993, France and Fiji agreed to commence military exchanges. In May, a platoon of French soldiers was sent for exercises in Fiji, at the same time as a Fijian platoon exercised in New Caledonia. Improved relations between Paris and Suva from 1987 developed alongside repeated declarations by the Fijian Republic of dissatisfaction with French testing until April 1992, and statements of support for New Caledonian independence. As was the case with New Zealand, Australia, the Cook Islands and Tonga, nuclear and decolonisation matters have not been allowed to seriously jeopardise relations with Paris. In June 1993, Dominique Perben, the French Minister of Overseas Departments and Territories, visited Suva. He was greeted by Prime Minister Rabuka, who praised France for the substantial assistance and cooperation that had developed with Fiji since the 1980s.

    French ambassadors in Port Vila during the 1980s faced persistent local Francophobia resulting from the troubled decolonisation of the New Hebrides. Prime Minister Walter Lini's predominantly Anglophone Vanuaaku Pati administrations were the source of some of the most outspoken regional critiques of French South Pacific policy. Not only did Lini advocate a nuclear-free Pacific before the New Zealand Labour Government did from 1984, he also supported the FLNKS. Lini was instrumental in mobilising the Forum on the issue of New Caledonian self-determination. In August 1986, the Forum decided to take New Caledonia's case to the UN. By December 1986 its members' lobbying in New York had resulted in a UNGA resolution which affirmed New Caledonia's right to self-determination and declared that France was obliged to transmit information about the territory's political situation to UN agencies.

    In February 1981 and in October 1987, Vanuatu expelled the French ambassador in Port Vila, alleging that embassy staff had interfered in local politics. But such reactions represent just one aspect of the jealous guardianship of Vanuatu's non-aligned stance from what was perceived as foreign neo-colonialist influence, whether it be French, US, or Australian. Consequently France has not been the sole nation subjected to Vanuatu anti-colonialist declarations, either during or since the 1980s. In May 1987, after negative comments in Canberra over proposed representation by Libya in Port Vila, Vanuatu announced a ban on visits by Australian military aircraft and ships. The controversy subsided some days later when Lini decided against forming links with Ghadaffi. Vociferous opposition to perceived neo-colonialism has remained an aspect of Vanuatu foreign policy beyond the end of Lini's period as Prime Minister. In July 1992, the Australian High Commissioner in Port Vila was expelled because of allegations of interference in local politics, although this time the expulsion was ordered by Prime Minister Maxime Carlot's predominantly Moderate Francophone coalition government, which had been appointed in December 1991.

    The vigorous expression in Port Vila of policy hostile to France has been restrained to some extent by Vanuatu's dependence on French aid. Although discord existed between Paris and Port Vila over nuclear issues and the question of New Caledonian decolonisation, Vanuatu never went so far as to cut off relations with France. The threat of withdrawing 200 French aid workers from the islands was sufficient to moderate policy conduct in Port Vila in 1981. After the second expulsion, in 1987 Paris reduced its embassy staff in Port Vila to two and reduced aid. This reaction prompted calls in 1988 from President Ati George Sokomanu for Lini and his colleagues to repair relations with Paris for the good of the economy. During the rest of the 1980s and up until Carlot's appointment in December 1991, VP leaders worked to improve relations with France.

    In addition to wanting to restore French aid vital to national economic development, for Vanuatu the major catalyst for reconciliation with France was not the suspension of French testing in 1992, but the calming of political tensions in New Caledonia four years before. In June 1988, the newly-appointed French Socialist Government of Michel Rocard signed an agreement with Melanesian nationalist and French loyalist leaders from New Caledonia. The Matignon Accords established a ten-year development plan for the territory, to be concluded with a self-determination referendum in 1998. With the relaxation of differences over New Caledonia thanks to the signature of the accords, Franco-Vanuatu relations have slowly improved since 1988. Cultural and educational exchanges, agricultural cooperation, and trade between Vanuatu and neighbouring New Caledonia have gradually been developed. In August 1992, Vanuatu established a consulate in New Caledonia to assist in the coordination of these links. The following month, a new French ambassador to Port Vila, Jean Mazeo, was appointed. He was the first to hold the post since the expulsion of his predecessor, Henri Crépin-Leblond, almost five years before. France's sometimes tempestuous relations with Vanuatu appear to have reached a period of calm in the 1990s.

    Arbitration of political tensions in New Caledonia contributed to a wider détente in French relations with the South Pacific Forum that the French test suspension consolidated. While reiterating its hope of seeing New Caledonia accede to independence, at each of its annual meetings since 1988 the Forum has expressed general satisfaction with the implementation of the Matignon Accords. Prior to the French test suspension, improved links between Forum members other than Vanuatu and New Caledonia were already well under way. Since 1988, New Caledonian delegations have made tours of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to explore or expand contacts in the fields of trade, culture, agriculture, education and land reform. Representatives from the aforementioned South Pacific states made reciprocal trips to New Caledonia in the same period. Similar exchanges have been taking place between French Polynesia and its island neighbours since the early 1980s. The Cook Islands, for example, benefited from the opening of markets for their produce in French Polynesia. In October 1991 the Cooks and France signed a friendship treaty, an undertaking to continue French cultural, technical and financial assistance.

    The declaration by President Mitterrand on 4 July 1993 of an extension to the test suspension has fuelled regional hopes that testing in French Polynesia might be permanently abandoned. This hope has yet to be confirmed. If events in the 1980s offer any indication, a recommencement of testing would be greeted by paper protests to Paris from the Forum. So too would declining stability in New Caledonia should the projected self-determination referendum fail to satisfactorily resolve the territory's future. Should either or both of these scenarios came to pass and France once more found itself the subject of regional protests, it is nevertheless unlikely that they would lead to French alienation in the region. French representation in the South Pacific has endured adverse Forum reactions before, whether caused by the decolonisation of the New Hebrides, 25 years of nuclear testing in French Polynesia, the Rainbow Warrior bombing, or the recognition of FLNKS demands in New Caledonia. The more beneficial aspects of France's regional presence in terms of cooperation, aid and trade, tend to receive less attention, but represent the reason why France has been able to expand its regional ties in the face of anti-nuclear and anti-colonialist declarations from South Pacific states.

First published in Contemporary Review September 1993

© Wayne Stuart McCallum  1993



2. Franco-Fijian Détente - Cheque Book Diplomacy?


    In 1987, Fiji's year of the coups, for the first time South Pacific journalists accorded some prominence to France's contacts with Fiji. When Suva's relations with Wellington and Canberra turned frosty, the English-language media regarded France's cordial relations with Fiji with some suspicion. There were reports of visits to Suva by French naval vessels, followed later by groundless rumours of plans for the construction of a French-funded naval base near Suva, which prompted speculation about France's motives. The phrase 'cheque book diplomacy' was bandied about. It was commonly assumed that Paris was seeking to influence Fiji's foreign policy by increasing aid to Suva at a time when Australian and New Zealand aid had been suspended.(1)

    Undeniably, France improved its relations with Fiji during this period of animosity between Suva and Wellington and Canberra. But the term 'cheque book diplomacy' deserves further scrutiny. Was France's advancement of relations with Fiji based on short-term cynicism, or were other motives involved? This article investigates why Franco-Fijian relations have improved and explores what the consequences of such relations have been.

    France's contacts with independent Fiji began over a decade before the events of 1987. Nonetheless, in the years immediately after Fijian independence in 1970, Suva's links with Paris were limited, and slow to develop. Before 1980, official contact between the two countries stemmed largely from their adherence to the South Pacific Commission. Scientific missions to Fiji were organised by French agencies. French financial and technical aid was given to the University of the South Pacific in Suva. Such modest contacts have continued through to the 1990s.

    The barrier to improved diplomatic relations in the 1970s was Parisian indifference hardened by Fijian opposition to French nuclear testing. This was the likely reason fro France waiting nine months in 1976 before agreeing to the nomination of a Fijian ambassador to the European Economic Community. A French 'chargé d'affaires', Bernard Malandain, was present in Suva in the 1970s. His most public activity consisted of refuting claims that French testing was unsafe. The 'chargé d'affaires' in Suva was at that time subordinate to the French Ambassador in Wellington.

    Differences over nuclear testing did not entirely inhibit the improvement of Franco-Fijian relations. French representation in Fiji was up-graded in June 1980, with the arrival of France's first ambassador to reside in Suva, Robert Puissant. His appointment was part of a wider expansion of French diplomacy in the South Pacific, motivated by the end of the Franco-British Condominium of the New Hebrides, which was perceived by Paris as a reverse for French regional interests that needed to be counterbalanced. France established an embassy in Port Vila after Vanuatu's independence in July 1980. In November 1980, Antoine Colombani, France's first resident ambassador in Port Moresby, presented his credentials to the government of Papua New Guinea.

    France had varied motives for wishing to establish an embassy in Suva. One reason was Fiji's geographic position, roughly central in the South-West Pacific. Lying at the hub of regional air and shipping routes. Suva was an ideal location for an embassy. Before 1980s, Paris had relied on its embassies in Canberra and Wellington to serve as contact points with the island states of the South-West Pacific. During the 1980s, the French Embassy in Suva played an important role in furthering communication with these states. France's Ambassador in Fiji received accreditation to Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Nauru, and has been responsible for initiating French aid programmes in those islands.

    France also wished to further relations with Fiji itself, a country which is a major force in island politics. A regionally large population centre, it enjoyed an economy and a government which at that time ranked among the most stable in the South Pacific. In the late 1970s, Fiji had emerged as a prominent regional participant in the Lomé Convention, a trade and development agreement established in 1975 between the European Community and developing African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

    Suva reciprocated the interest expressed by Paris. As Paris was a major importer of Fijian sugar, it was in Fiji's interests to further continued access to this important market. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji's Prime Minister, paid his first official visit to Paris in September 1980, shortly after Puissant's arrival in Suva. He met the French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and his Foreign Minister, Jean-François Poncet. The latter cordially welcomed Mara, and observed France and Fiji's successful collaboration in the Lomé Convention. He also pointed to the two nations' co-operation in the UN peace-keeping force in Lebanon since 1978, and expressed the hope of greater liaison between France, Fiji, and its South Pacific neighbours.(2)

    Mara's message to France was more reserved, albeit guarded. He agreed that Fiji's relations with France had improved. Nonetheless, Mara showed that substantial differences remained between Paris and Suva over two key political issues. He noted that the South Pacific Forum's opposition to French nuclear testing and reiterated the demands of both the Forum and Fiji that it be halted, He also raised the issue of New Caledonia, stressing Fiji's support for its decolonisation. These two issued remained salient features in Franco-Fijian diplomatic relations during the 1980s.

    Fiji continued active but ineffectual opposition to French nuclear testing, on the assumption that French actions posed an unacceptable threat to the environment. Under President François Mitterrand, the French nuclear strike force was not only retained, but expanded in the 1980s - an expansion requiring further nuclear tests. Fiji repeatedly stated its opposition to French testing through the South Pacific Forum's annual communiqués. Fijian government press statements opposing French testing were issued after new tests.(3) On several occasions Fiji in addition used the United Nations as a forum of its discontent.

    When the South Pacific Forum finalised the South pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty in Rarotonga in August 1985, Fiji, as a signatory, campaigned actively for its recognition. The Rarotonga Treaty was greeted with concern by Paris: with some justification, the French held that the treaty was a vehicle for regional opposition to French testing. The Rarotonga Treaty's nuclear-free zone encompassed all of French Polynesia, while under articles 3 and 6, signatories undertook to renounce the manufacture, acquisition and testing of nuclear explosive devices.

    Fiji used its participation in the Lomé Convention to promote the Rarotonga Treaty. In September 1986, at a Lomé Convention Assembly in Greece, Fiji introduced a resolution sponsored by Pacific members calling on France to end its nuclear testing and to support the Rarotonga Treaty. Although this was an odd forum to use for such ends, Fiji's ambassador Poseci Bune successfully argued that environmental issues did constitute legitimate concerns of the Lomé Convention. The Assembly adopted the resolution, causing irritation to French representatives, but this event did not alter either French support for nuclear testing or French opposition to the Rarotonga Treaty. Neither Fiji nor any other member of the South Pacific Forum had sufficient diplomatic or economic influence over France to sway it from continued support for nuclear deterrence.

    In common with the other Western nuclear powers, France did not recognise the Rarotonga Treaty in the 1980s, and announced its unwillingness to ratify the treaty's protocols in February 1986. Fiji's protests to international organisations about French testing were at times provocative.(4) France's restrained response was to explain its continued support for nuclear deterrence. Although Paris and Suva disagreed on testing, their disagreement did not develop into diplomatic feuding of the sort that occurred periodically in the 1980s between France and the governments of Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand.

       Fijian support for decolonisation in New Caledonia intensified until 1988, but Fijian declarations on New Caledonia were more restrained than the strident condemnations of French policies by Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Like New Caledonia, Fiji has a multiracial society with a large immigrant community. Before 1987, Fijian leaders were reluctant to make ill-considered statements supporting Kanak nationalism that might aggravate domestic ethnic tensions.

    In turn, French criticisms of South Pacific leaders' comments on New Caledonia were reserved mainly for Australia and New Zealand. Both socialist and liberal-conservative French governments in the 1980s tended fallaciously to view these two nations as the irresponsible leaders of South Pacific Forum critiques concerning New Caledonia.

    Rather than New Zealand and Australia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu were the countries which pushed the issue of Forum support for New Caledonian independence. At the South Pacific Forum's Rotorua meeting in August 1982, Fiji did not support calls form Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to place New Caledonia's case before the UN decolonisation committee. The failures of French Socialist Government initiatives for New Caledonia such as the Lemoine Statute of 1984 and the Pisani/Fabius Interim Statute of 1985, later prompted Fiji to change its mind. After the appointment of the Chirac government in March 1986, effective French government support for decolonisation seemed to Fiji to be unlikely. In Suva in August 1986, the South Pacific Forum adopted a resolution to take New Caledonia's case to the United Nations. Fiji had resisted past attempts to approve the resolution, but at the Suva meeting all but the Cook Islands favoured the decision.

    As the only South Pacific nation on the UN decolonisation committee, in August 1986 Fiji presented the South Pacific Forum's proposal that New Caledonia should be declared a non-self-governing territory. In December 1986, the United Nations added New Caledonia to its list of territories to be decolonised. Taking New Caledonia's case to the United Nations represented a major policy initiative for both Fiji and the South Pacific Forum, but such a move was unlikely to change France's position. Paris regarded the resolution of New Caledonia's problems as an internal matter, and resented what it saw as external meddling in French affairs.

    Relations between France and Fiji appeared to be on the verge of further difficulties with the election of Dr Timoci Bavadra's Coalition government in April 1987. Bavadra's government was more strongly opposed to nuclear arms than Mara's Alliance government had been, and was expected to stiffen Suva's opposition to French nuclear testing. Mara's governments had been the subject of repeated criticisms form the Fijian anti-nuclear movement since the 1970s. Groups such as the Pacific Conference of Churches, the YWCA, the University of the South Pacific Students' Association, and the Fiji Anti-Nuclear Group, held that Mara had not been sufficiently vigorous in his opposition to French testing. Such groups supported Bavadra on nuclear issues.

    However Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka's coups d'état on 14 May and 25 September 1987 removed the likelihood that Franco-Fijian relations would deteriorate further. With more immediate international strife occupying the forefront of national political debate, Fiji's international protests over French nuclear testing were less of a priority than they had been in preceding years.

    Unlike New Zealand and Australia, France signalled support to the interim governments installed after both the May and September coups. The French Secretary of State to the South Pacific, Gaston Flosse, visited Suva in August and September to discuss French aid. After the second coup, on 16 October, the French Embassy in Suva informed Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Dr Jona Senilagakali, that France was prepared to maintain relations with Fiji. In doing so, the French were not necessarily expressing support for Rabuka's new regime. France's standing policy is to recognise countries rather than the governments ruling them, thus dispensing with the dilemma of assessing whether constitutionally dubious governments should receive diplomatic recognition.

    France's continued relations with Suva were reassuring at a troubled time for Fijian diplomacy. Rabuka's proclamation of a Republic on 7 October and Fiji's consequent departure from the Commonwealth had distanced it from Australia and New Zealand. By this time, both Canberra and Wellington had suspended military and economic aid to Fiji. The two countries reinstated economic aid in 1988, but military aid remained suspended until July 1992, when Australian announced the resumption of full defence co-operation with Fiji.

    Between 1987 and 1992, France initiated tentative military co-operation with Fiji, filling some of the gap left by the absence of Australian and New Zealand. Although, during his tour of the South Pacific in August 1989, the French Prime Minister Michel Rocard denied allegations by the regional press that France had offered military aid to Fiji,(5) French co-operation with Fiji since 1987 has included a military component.

    Port calls by the French Navy were prominent signs of continued French relations with Fiji after the coups. Two French patrol boats visited Suva in October 1987, and were greeted by Colonel Rabuka. One of the ships, La Railleuse, manoeuvred with a Fijian naval vessel. In January 1988, the French frigate Balny also visited Suva. However such port calls were nothing new. French naval vessels had regularly toured the South Pacific in previous years. Their arrival in Suva was not accorded any great significance by the French government. Such visits had long been a regular duty for vessels stationed in French Polynesia. But for Fiji these visits represented reassuring public signs of support for a country facing many problems.

    A French aid package to Fiji worth $8 million Australian was announced in January 1988. It included 53 Renault trucks and an Ecureuil helicopter, intended mainly for development work. Thirty-seven of the trucks and the helicopter became the responsibility of the Fijian Army, which since 1975 has administered a civilian conservation crops using unemployed labour for construction work. The helicopter appears to have been used predominantly for emergency evacuations.(6)

    From August to September 1989 two Fijian Army lieutenants, funded by the French government, learnt how to fly Fiji's new French helicopter in Singapore. French funding continued in 1989 when a Fijian major spent nine months at the French staff college at Compiègne.(7) These were small-scale developments. Nevertheless, Fijian army personnel had completed similar overseas military training in New Zealand or Australia before 1987.

    A more significant development occurred in 1990. In June that year, the French Navy demonstrated to Fiji the surveillance capabilities of one of its Gardian jets. Suva was sufficiently impressed to ask France to assume the responsibility of aerial surveillance of Fiji's exclusive economic zone. Before May 1987, such maritime surveillance had been performed by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Now it is conducted regularly by French Army aircraft. Following the reopening of Australian and later New Zealand military co-operation with Suva, France shared surveillance duties over Fiji's exclusive economic zone with the Royal Australian Air Force.

    French Navy aircraft were already sharing monitoring of Vanuatu's exclusive economic zone with the RAAF, since Vanuatu asked for French Navy assistance in February 1992. Likewise, the French had begun supplementing RNZAF surveillance of Cook Islands waters since September 1990. Such co-operation demonstrated how far French relations with South Pacific nations had progressed since the mid-1980s. This French assistance has been gratefully accepted by island states faced with the dilemma of patrolling massive exclusive economic zones with limited means.(8)

    Fiji's importance to France's relations in the South Pacific became apparent during Rocard's tour of the region in August 1989. Although his stay in Suva lasted only twenty-two hours, it was the first visit paid by a French Prime Minister to an South Pacific island state. In Suva, Rocard reaffirmed the hopes that François-Poncet had expressed to Mara in Paris in 1980, declaring France's aim of improving relations with Fiji and its South Pacific neighbours.(9)

    Rocard's hope for increased French co-operation with Fiji later came to pass. In July 1991, Jacques Le Blanc, Permanent Secretary to the South Pacific, visited Suva to discuss French aid to Fiji. He announced that Paris would be increasing its development aid in years to come. As a result of successive aid plans implemented by France since 1988, Le Blanc estimated that Fiji had already received approximately one third of France's aid to South Pacific island states. It was announced that Fiji had been allocated F$18 million for the 1989-91 period. This contrasted with the mid-1980s, when Vanuatu had been the only major foreign recipient of French aid in the South Pacific.(10)

    There were further indications of increasing trade between Fiji and France's South Pacific Territories. In March 1990 it was announced that the French Embassy in Suva had established a Trade Commission. This mission has been active in stimulating local business contacts with the French Pacific. In September 1990 a Fijian trade delegation visited French Polynesia. A similar mission visited New Caledonia in April 1991. A reciprocal visit was made from New Caledonia to Fiji four months later. These were the first of further such visits made in the 1990s. France hopes to encourage economic growth in its South Pacific Territories through regional trade. Fiji too hopes to increase its exports to these markets.

    Rocard stated during his visit to Suva that France did not wish to comment on Fiji's internal affairs. Unlike New Zealand and Australia, France has not passed judgement on Fiji's domestic policies. Nor has French diplomacy eliminated disagreements with Fijian foreign policy. There is no great evidence on which to assume that Paris swayed Suva's policies on French nuclear testing and New Caledonia.

    Although the Fijian government banned a Fiji Anti-Nuclear Group demonstration in Suva during Rocard's visit, Mara did reiterate to Rocard Fiji's call that France end its nuclear testing. Following Rabuka's decision in December 1987 to step down as Fiji's head of state and to allow Mara to become Prime Minister, Mara recommenced issuing statements opposing French nuclear testing. He also continued to sign South Pacific Forum communiqués opposing testing, and at the United Nations Fiji maintained criticism of French tests until their end in January 1996. The abandonment then by France of testing and its decision, having done so, to sign the Rarotonga Treaty some weeks later has removed a major disagreement between France and Fiji.

    Since the 1987 coups, Fiji had continued supporting the goal of decolonisation in New Caledonia. In July 1991, Mara announced the Forum's continued support for the FLNKS and its goal of an independent Kanaky. He also stated Forum support for FLNKS attempts to persuade New Caledonia's non-European immigrants to vote for independence in the self-determination referendum scheduled for 1998. These announcements were not viewed favourably by France. But, in general, regional tension over the issue of New Caledonian independence has diminished since the signing of the Matignon Accords in 1988. Fiji, along with other Forum members, has expressed broad support for the Accords.

    Although in the aftermath of Rabuka's appointment as Prime Minister in early June 1992, there have been various reforms to the parliamentary system in Fiji, and in the future other parties perhaps less sympathetic to France will occupy his position, it is unlikely that Paris will allow possible disagreement over New Caledonia to hinder contacts with Suva. Moreover, France's improvement of relations with Fiji should not be seen as an attempt since 1987 to obtain Suva's agreement on this or other contentious issues. Paris has long-term goals in furthering relations with Suva which transcend such considerations. As was indicated above, France's decision to improve contacts with Fiji and the South Pacific in general dates back to the late 1970s.

    Through increased diplomatic activity, leading to further French aid, technical assistance and inter-regional trade, France has become accepted in a region traditionally neglected by French governments. Such increased acceptance is also a necessary precondition to the future economic integration of France's Pacific Territories into the region.


1 Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint, 21 November 1987 is a good example.

2 "Toast du ministre des Affairs étrangères Jean-François-Poncet le 12 septembre 1980 au Premier ministre Mara", French Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release.

3 Such statements were issued either by Fiji's Prime Minister or Minister of Foreign Affairs. See for instance Fiji government press releases nos. 570, 3 September 1985; 729, 29 November 1985.

4 In October 1983, Fiji called for an international ban on French testing at the UN General Assembly. See Fiji Sun, 12 October 1983, p.3. During the UN's fortieth anniversary celebrations in October and November 1985, Mara expressed Fiji's condemnation of French nuclear testing. See Pacific Islands Monthly, January 1985, p.48. In October 1988, Fiji's UN representative declared that France's nuclear testing should be relocated to metropolitan France. See Stephen Henningham, "France and the South Pacific in the 1980s. An Australian Perspective" in Journal de la Société des Océanistes no. 92-93, 1991 1&2 p.37.

5 See Pacific Report 31 August 1989 p.2; Le Monde 24 August 1989 p. 20; Fiji Times 24 August 1989 p.1.

6 Fiji Times 23 August 1989 p.6.

7 Pacific Report 15 September 1988 p.5; Nic Maclellan. "Liberty Equality and Fraternity? French Military Forces in the Pacific"in Interdisciplinary Peace Research vol.2 no.1 p.22.

8 Regarding French maritime surveillance for Fiji, see Fiji Times 26 June 1990 p.3; 29 September 1990 p.2, 9 July 1991 p.12.

9 See the text of Rocard's Suva speech in Developpement, Solidarité, Coopération Régionale - la Politique de la France dans le Pacifique Sud. Voyage officiel de M. Michel Rocard, Premier ministre, dans le Pacifique Sud, Service d'Information et de Diffusion du Premier Ministre, Paris 1989 pp.43-45.

10 Fiji Times 13 July 1991 p.3.


First published in New Zealand International Review November/December 1992

© Wayne Stuart McCallum  1992


3. The Polynesian Connection - the Cook Islands and France

Cook Islands Ariki (chiefs) greeting the French delegation and other delegations on Ariki Day, Avarua, Rarotonga, July 2016

W.S. McCallum

    The inhabitants of the Cook Islands have enjoyed privileged relations with Wellington since gaining autonomy in 1965. Not only do Cook Islanders receive the greatest percentage of New Zealand's overseas aid, they also hold the right to New Zealand citizenship. New Zealand remains the Cooks' main trading partner, and although the islands administer their internal affairs and external trade, Wellington is formally responsible for their defence and diplomatic relations in consultation with the Cooks government.

    Yet while links with New Zealand will continue to be important to the Cooks in years to come, since the 1970s the islands have sought to develop bilateral relations with other states. Successive governments have been aware of the need for the islands to strengthen their economic security by lessening dependence on New Zealand.

    In addition to increasing contacts with Pacific rim nations such as Japan and Australia, the Cook Islands have developed relations with France. To some extent, this latter development has been surprising. For historical reasons that outweighed the Cooks' geographic proximity to French Polynesia, substantial economic and diplomatic links did not evolve until the 1980s between Rarotonga and France's largest Pacific territory.

    Nineteenth century Franco-British rivalry in the South Pacific established barriers between the Cooks and their eastern Polynesian neighbours that persisted into the late twentieth century. French interest in the Cooks dates back to the 1880s, when British fears that France would annex the islands led to the declaration of a British Protectorate in September 1888. Following the incorporation of the Cook Islands into New Zealand in 1901, the territory developed modern institutions isolated from the introduction of Gallic institutions in French Polynesia. English models were adopted in the Cooks in the fields of education, religion, law and administration. The disparate European heritages of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia have hindered their mutual co-operation. To this day, few Cook Islanders speak French, or have any knowledge of French institutions, history or culture.

    Nevertheless, one abiding link between the Cook Islands and French Polynesia remained from before the advent of European hegemony in the Pacific - a shared Polynesian heritage. Tahiti and its surrounding islands are the ancestral homelands of Cook Islanders, and despite several hundred years of separate cultural development, Cook Islands Maori and Tahitian are still mutually comprehensible languages. It is ironic that Cook Islanders and Tahitian should have found themselves separated by the rivalry of Britain and France. The Cooks and Tahiti are both culturally and geographically closer to one another than Tahiti is to some parts of French Polynesia.

    Until the late 1970s, the Polynesian connection between Tahiti and Rarotonga held less political significance than the islands' disparate French and British heritages. Then leaders in both the Cook Islands and French Polynesia began pointing to their shared Polynesian heritage as a motive for increasing cultural, technical and commercial exchanges. Although its autonomy is less developed than that of the Cooks, French Polynesia has attained a more autonomous status through its 1977 and 1984 statutes, which increased the powers of its Territorial Assembly. These reforms, combined with a revival in Tahitian culture, have led to a strengthening of local identity. Unlike preceding generations, the present generation of French Polynesian political leaders consists predominantly of démis (half-castes). While the majority of these leaders oppose independence, they have a greater sense of Polynesian particularism within the French Republic than their forebears, and have had more scope in implementing territorial policy.

    Expansion of self-government and a resurgence of local culture in French Polynesia contributed in the 1980s to the improvement of relations with the Cook Islands. As will be shown, improved contacts between Rarotonga and Tahiti facilitated the Cook Islands' opening of dialogue with Paris. Although the Cooks' recognised link with Paris is the French Embassy in Wellington, its role was arguably less important than that of Papeete.

    Contrary to the impression that Prime Minister Geoffrey Henry's administration 1983 opened contacts with French Polynesia's Territorial Assembly, Cook Islands government dialogue actually commenced much earlier. Geoffrey Henry's predecessor Albert Henry visited French Polynesia in January 1967 to consult territorial leaders about trading possibilities. His visit did not, however, produce any great commercial surge.(1) Under Sir Thomas Davis's Democratic Party (DP) government from 1978 to March 1983, the Cook Islands tentatively explored with French Polynesia the feasibility of alternative power sources for the Cooks.(2) But although Geoffrey Henry was not the first Cook Islands Prime Minister to hold discussions with his French Polynesian counterparts, he was responsible for durable progress in trade expansion with Tahiti.

    In July 1983, Henry's Cook Islands Party (CIP) government negotiated access to French Polynesia for the Cooks' fruit and vegetables. The Cooks' Trade Minister, George Ellis, returned from negotiations in Papeete stating that his delegation had obtained "everything that we asked for".(3) The talks in Papeete preceded an exchange of letters between Rarotonga and Tahiti which defined access conditions for Cook Islands produce. Six months after the return of the DP government in November 1983, Davis was in Papeete for further discussions.(4) As a result, Cook Islands and French Polynesian leaders agreed to hold two meetings per year to discuss trade, agricultural and technical co-operation. Cook Islands exports have been a high priority item on the agendas of subsequent negotiations, with the Cooks repeatedly attempting to gain more favourable import quotas on the French Polynesian market.(5)

    The Cooks subsequently increased exports to Tahiti, but such trade is unlikely to supersede the importance of the New Zealand and Japanese markets to the Cooks economy. French Polynesia relies heavily on French government subsidies for its financial survival and lacks an export-orientated economy. It is not a promising source of imports for the Cooks. New Zealand, followed by Japan and the European Community, were the islands' principal sources of imports in 1985. In terms of exports in 1985 and 1986, New Zealand, then Japan, were the two main recipients of Cook Islands goods, followed by French Polynesia. While Cook Islands leaders still declare the utility of continued trade expansion with French Polynesia, the French territory's economy is neither sufficiently large nor sufficiently diverse, to sustain prolonged export growth.(6)

    Increasing Cook Islands trade with Tahiti since the early 1980s did not occur in isolation. A parallel development was the introduction of French aid to the Cooks. Gaston Flosse, French Polynesia's Vice-President in 1983, who led the group which negotiated with Ellis, played an important role in channelling French aid to the Cooks. Flosse, leader of the Gaullist Tahoeraa Huiraatira party, became French Polynesia's first elected territorial President in 1984. He also represented French Polynesia in the French National Assembly. After the defeat of the Socialist government in the French legislative elections of March 1986, and the appointment of the liberal-conservative Chirac government in Paris, Flosse was nominated as Secretary of State to the South Pacific.

    This new ministerial post was a response by Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to France's diplomatic problems in the region. The difficult decolonisation of the Franco-British Condominium of the New Hebrides in 1980, problems in New Caledonia, regional opposition to French nuclear testing and the Rainbow Warrior bombing, had all contributed to the realisation in Paris that French policy in the South Pacific was not faring well. Flosse's Secretariat was a belated French response to a previously neglected region. Attached to Chirac's office, and acting independently of the Quai d'Orsay, Flosse was assigned the mission of improving France's image in the South Pacific by initiating new French aid and commercial links. A charismatic démi, fluent in Tahitian and with a flowing oratorical style, Flosse was to give a new look to French regional diplomacy.

    Flosse was already well known on Rarotonga due to his contacts with the Cooks prior to 1986. His appointment as Secretary of State to the South Pacific proved to be favourable for the territory. After Cyclone Sally struck Rarotonga on 2 January 1987 Flosse, with Chirac's assent, organised a 57-member military and civilian relief team to assist in reconstruction. The team disembarked at Rarotonga on 7 January. The operation was a publicity coup for Flosse, and he fostered substantial goodwill with donations of two excavators, three front-end loaders, thirty chainsaws, and forty tonnes of food and medicine. One hundred pre-fabricated houses were also promised, but only thirty-three of these had arrived by the time of the disbandment of Flosse's post after the Socialist victory in the June 1988 French legislative elections.(7)

    French largesse did not end with Flosse's relief effort. In September 1987, Prime Minister Pupuke Robati (DP) made a visit to Paris hosted by Flosse, where he met Chirac and his ministers, Robati returned with a French government commitment to a FF50 million soft loan for further reconstruction work and hotel development in Avarua. In February 1992, the Cook Islands negotiated a French loan worth 1.6 million to upgrade Rarotonga's water supply. Around the same time, it was estimated that French funding for the renovation of Rarotonga's power system had exceeded US$8 million.(8)

    The Cook Islands government has welcomed French loans and aid as significant supplement to New Zealand financial assistance, which dropped from around 44% of the Cook Islands' GDP in 1976 to about 14% in 1991. Wellington's standing policy is to continue reducing aid to the islands. Under such circumstances, it is inevitable that the Cooks should turn to France, amongst others, for finance and aid.

    French co-operation with the Cook Islands expanded in a new direction in 1990. In August 1989, Prime Minister Geoffrey Henry met the French Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard in Papeete, where a plan for French assistance in patrolling the Cook's exclusive economic zone was mooted. Twelve months later, a French Navy Gardian jet conducted the first French surveillance of Cook Islands waters. French exclusive economic sweeps over the Cooks have subsequently become regular events. In February 1991, the French Navy despatched a Gardian jet and a patrol boat to conduct a joint exclusive economic zone sweep with the Cook Islands' lone patrol boat and an RNZAF Orion.(9)

    French naval activities in Cooks waters before 1990 consisted of goodwill visits, and the occasional emergency evacuation of sick Cook Islanders to Papeete. The New Zealand government has assented to an increased French naval presence in the Cooks; perhaps a tacit admission of the shortcomings in New Zealand's capacity to patrol the islands. The Cooks' territorial waters cover an area of 2.2 million square kilometres. This is around four times the land area of metropolitan France. It is debatable whether, even with French co-operation, such an immense area could be adequately patrolled, but the Cooks Islands government is undoubtedly grateful for any assistance it can obtain.

    The Cook Islands' links with France have continued to broaden since 1990. In May 1990, French Polynesia offered to train Cook Islanders in pearl farming. In October 1990, French Ministry of Energy officials, transported by the French Navy, set up solar power generators on the islands of Palmerston and Pukapuka. That month, the French government also published its territorial delimitation agreement with the Cooks, which defined their boundary with French Polynesia. A year later, Geoffrey Henry signed the Cook Islands/France Friendship Treaty with Prime Minister Edith Cresson in Paris, an undertaking to continue French cultural, technical and financial assistance.

    Parallel to improving relations with France in the 1980s, the Cook Islands government adopted a moderate tone over France's nuclear testing in French Polynesia and the question of New Caledonia's independence.

    Cook Islands protests about nuclear testing in French Polynesia began in September 1963, when the islands' Legislative Assembly protested France's plan to relocate its testing programme from Algeria. Albert Henry actively opposed French nuclear testing. His CIP administration backed the establishment of a DSIR monitoring post on Rarotonga to measure the effects of French tests. In April 1966, he refused permission for any French aircraft associated with the testing programme to fly through Cooks airspace. Henry also called off a Cook Islands dance troupe's visit to Bastille Day celebrations in Papeete in July 1966, to express disapproval over the commencement that month of the first nuclear tests at Moruroa atoll. Henry supported New Zealand protests to international organisations about French testing through to his political demise in 1978.

    Formal opposition to French nuclear testing remained the policy of Cook Islands governments from 1978 to the 1990s. But no administration in that period allowed the nuclear issue to hinder either the islands' improvement of commercial links with French Polynesia or the allocation of French aid to the Cooks. Such cautious policy conduct is not unique. In Wellington, both National and Labour governments have been unwilling to advocate their opposition to French testing to the point of permitting the issue to disrupt New Zealand trade with Europe.

    Although the Cooks joined in signing the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty in August 1985, which constituted a major expression of regional discontent with French testing, Cook Islands governments in the 1980s have not opposed French testing to the extent of Melanesian states. Cook Islands prime ministers have tended to emit contradictory signals concerning French testing, opposing testing when the stance appears to be advantageous in a domestic policy contest, while displaying more conciliatory attitudes at other times.

    For example, Davis said in June 1982 that he would not continue protesting French nuclear testing for want of evidence to support claims it was unsafe. However in an election statement four months later, Davis announced: "We [the DP] will always move against nuclear testing in our area and this includes testing in French Polynesia".(10)

    Geoffrey Henry has also shifted his stance on French nuclear testing. In an election statement in October 1982 he complained about Davis's lack of opposition to French testing - "I've been disappointed in this government's [Davis's] failure to speak out more strongly against nuclear testing in the Pacific". He appeared in March 1992 to have moderated somewhat his previous desire to see the Cooks protest vigorously - "there is nothing to be gained by the Cook Islands jumping up and down in the streets of Rarotonga protesting against the bomb testing - that is silly, a waste of time and energy". Henry indicated that he understood France's reasons for adopting nuclear deterrence and offered this message to France - "We have no problem with you finding a position of strength on world security and defence matters...But don't do it at the environmental expense of Pacific Islanders."(11)

    These contrasting declarations demonstrate changing positions over time. A more drastic piece of conflicting logic is offered by Foreign Minister Norman George's response in 1988 to a question about the Cooks' position on French testing - "Condemn, condemn, condemn...We have visited the test sites on Moruroa and are satisfied with the safety methods carried out by the French. But our views do not change. If it's so safe, why not test it in Paris?"(12) Here George expressed total opposition to French testing, proceeded to state his government's faith in the safety of these tests, and then queried their assumed safety with a rhetorical anti-nuclear stance. Such wavering continued until the French decision to end testing in January 1996 eliminated Moruroa and Fangataufa as contentious elements in France's in regional relations.

    Less ambivalence has been apparent in the Cook Islands' response to the question of New Caledonian independence. Cooks governments in the 1980s displayed reluctance to favour Kanak demands for self-determination. As with French nuclear testing, the Cooks' stance on New Caledonia has been more moderate than that of the Melanesian islands states, which have supported the concept of Kanak sovereignty.

    At the South Pacific Forum's meeting in Suva in August 1986, the Cook Islands alone expressed major reservations over a proposal initiated by Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu which sought the Forum's agreement in taking New Caledonia's case to the United Nations. After the failure of major French Socialist government reforms in New Caledonia, and the troubles of 1984 and 1985, Forum members decided that a regional initiative would best serve the cause of New Caledonian independence. Davis attended the Forum meeting in Suva days after meting Chirac in Paris. In Suva, he criticised Forum action which might interfere with Chirac's plans for the territory. Davis expressed confidence in the Chirac government's reform proposals for New Caledonia, stating that they offered the promise of positive change. The rest of the Forum was not convinced, and held that bringing international attention to New Caledonia's problems might pressure France into offering greater concessions to the independence movement. The Forum adopted the proposal.(13)

    Consequent Forum lobbying resulted in a UN General Assembly resolution in December 1986 that affirmed New Caledonia's right to self-determination, and declared France's obligation to transmit information about the territory to UN agencies. France responded by declaring that New Caledonia's future was an internal matter that could be resolved within the framework of French constitutional law. If the Forum's initiative did not prompt any change in French policy in New Caledonia, it was likewise apparent by the time of the dissolution of Chirac's government in 1988 that his administration's reforms had not succeeded in diminishing the territory's problems.

    The Cook Islands responded favourably to the negotiation of the Matignon Accords by Rocard's administration and New Caledonian representatives in June 1988. The Cooks congratulated France on the implementation of the accords' territorial development plan, to be followed by a self-determination referendum in 1998. The calming of political tensions in New Caledonia has been described by the Cooks government as ample reason for leaving France to resolve the territory's future without Forum involvement. In July 1991, Prime Minister Geoffrey Henry stated that "France and New Caledonia should get down together, work their problems out, and the less intervention from us [the Forum] in the determination of that direction the better."(14)

    The Cook Islands' conciliatory attitude towards France over New Caledonia's fate will be maintained. There is little likelihood of the Cooks wishing to antagonise France given the islands' desire to strengthen commercial, cultural and technical ties with French Polynesia, their increasing reliance on French development loans, and the utility of a French naval presence in their exclusive economic zone. France also wishes to preserve its good relations with the Cook Islands. The Cooks represent a voice in the South Pacific Forum which has been relatively sympathetic to French regional interests. The Cook Islands' trade with French Polynesia assists Tahiti's greater economic integration into the Pacific region, while French co-operation with Rarotonga comprises just one element in the improvement of France's relations with South Pacific states.


1 David Stone, "The Awesome Glow in the Sky - The Cook Islands and the French Nuclear Tests" in Journal of Pacific History vol. 2 1967 p.158. Cook Islands exports to Tahiti during the 1970s were minimal. See Cook Islands Quarterly Statistical Bulletin [CIQSB] October-December 1976.

2 Cook Islands News [CIN] 2 October 1981 pp. 1, 7.

3 Ibid. 22 July 1983 p.1.

4 Pacific Islands Monthly July 1984 p.7. CIN 26 May 1984 pp. 1, 8.

5 CIN 26 May 1984 p.1, 1 May 1990 p.1.

6 Total Cooks imports (1985) = NZ$35.1 million, including $17.3 million from NZ, $3.7 million from Japan, $0.4 million from the European Community - Europa World Year Book 1991 vol.2 p.1972. Total Cooks exports (1985)= $6.1 million, including $4.8 million to NZ, $0.4 million to Japan, $0.3 million to French Polynesia - CIQSB March 1986. Total Cooks exports (1986) = $6 million, including $4.8 million to NZ, $0.7 million to Japan, and $0.2 million to French Polynesia - CIQSB December 1986.

7 Regarding the relief effort, see CIN 8 January 1987, p.1, 12 January 1987 p.1, 27 January 1987 p.12, 24 September 1987 p.1, 7 April 1988 p.1. Cf La lettre du Secrétaire d'Etat chargé du Pacifique Sud no. 3 March 1987.

8 For details on the 1987 loan, see Le Monde 10 September 1987 p.11, La lettre... no.7 November 1987 p.4, CIN 6 July 1987 p.1, 25 July 1988 p.1. Regarding the water supply loan, see CIN 11 February 1992 p.1. Concerning the loan for electrical renovation, see R & M Crocombe "Cook Islands" in The Contemporary Pacific vol 4 no.1 Spring 1992 p.195.

9 CIN 8 September 1990 p.1, 4 February 1991 p.1.

10 Ibid 22 June 1982 p.9, 14 October 1982 p.6.

11 Ibid. 14 October 1982 p.7, Fiji Times 26 March 1992 p.10.

12 CIN 18 August 1988 p.4.

13 Islands Business September 1986 pp.12, 13, 19, 20.

14 Pacnews, first edition 22 July 1991 p.3.


First published in New Zealand International Review January/February 1993

© Wayne Stuart McCallum  1993



4. The Rocard Visit to New Zealand - symbol of rapprochement

    Michel Rocard's visit to New Zealand between 29 April and 1 May 1991 constituted an important event in the history of New Zealand's relations with France. The arrival of France's Prime Minister was hailed by the National government as a major symbol of rapprochement, and as the beginning of a new period of entente after the indifferent relations experienced during the days of the Labour government.

    The first European Prime Minister to visit New Zealand since Harold MacMillan in 1957, and the first French Prime Minister to arrive in the country, Rocard was a long time coming. New Zealand had been conspicuously absent from the itinerary of his tour of the South Pacific in August 1989. On that occasion, his party's route had traced a broad arc around New Zealand encompassing Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Wallis and Futuna, and French Polynesia. Rocard expressed his regrets over not visiting New Zealand at the time, citing a busy schedule as the reason. However he also admitted that the Rainbow Warrior bombing and its acrimonious aftermath remained too recent a memory for a prime ministerial visit to be propitiously received.(1)

    Following National's accession to power, circumstances must have appeared more favourable. A visit to New Zealand had been scheduled for 25 to 27 January 1991, but the trip had to be postponed as tensions mounted in the Persian Gulf. A visit to the South Pacific at such a time would have been impermissible. Rocard spent January working with President Mitterrand in managing France's response to the Gulf crisis.

    Although brief, Rocard's visit was made at a time when he faced major domestic problems. That the visit occurred at all was largely a reflection of Rocard's desire to improve relations with New Zealand, and to improve France's image in the South Pacific generally.

    Of all the issues raised by Rocard's visit, the Rainbow Warrior bombing retained special significance. Despite having made public apologies for the bombing during his South Pacific tour in 1989, Rocard was well aware that a repeat performance would be necessary. He addressed the issue, shortly after his arrival, during the opening of his speech at the Beehive:

    "Some errors have been made in the past. France was at fault. I have said it publicly, and I say it again here. Misunderstandings have developed, incomprehension has opposed us. Today, we must go beyond that. We must think of building the future."(2)

    Rocard had no involvement in the Rainbow Warrior affair, despite the occasional comment to the contrary in the New Zealand media.(3) Three months before the bombing, he had resigned from his post as Agriculture Minister in the Fabius administration in order to signal his opposition to proposed electoral reforms. Nor could Rocard be held responsible for the conservative Chirac administration's handling of the Rainbow Warrior arbitration. Rocard's personal gesture of atonement over the affair was one that he might have chosen to dispense with, but only at the risk of being accused of French arrogance.

    His apology nonetheless involved a certain amount of risk. Scorn was expressed for Rocard's apology both in France and New Zealand. On 30 April, Le Figaro, the conservative Parisian daily, berated Rocard in a front page editorial entitled "masochism". The editorial articulated the views of the more chauvinistic members of French society, who felt there existed little compulsion for a French Prime Minister to humble himself and France in front of the leaders of an insignificant country on the far side of the world.

    Likewise, the New Zealand peace lobby was unimpressed with Rocard's act of contrition. The reiteration of support for French nuclear deterrence which he also expressed in his Beehive speech, and his insistence on the "innocuousness" of French nuclear testing at Moruroa Atoll were not well received by New Zealanders opposed to nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Bolger replied to Rocard's expression of France's support for nuclear deterrence and its associated testing by restating New Zealand's opposition to nuclear weapons. After the two had agreed to differ, the matter was largely put aside in order to discuss other maters.

    Peace activists, on the other hand, did their best to keep the nuclear issue at the forefront of Rocard's visit. Demonstrators were present throughout his tour, articulating the belief that there could be no real reconciliation with France until it stopped its nuclear tests. One protester's placard displayed during Rocard's stop at Akaroa on 30 April read "What are friendly words without peaceful actions?"

    Rocard's public expressions of support for French nuclear deterrence during his tour reiterated arguments which have been commonplace in French strategic thinking since President de Gaulle established France's nuclear force in the 1960s. At that time, Rocard had criticised French deterrence, describing the nuclear force as costly and outdated.(4) He discarded this belief after joining Mitterrand's Socialist Party. By 1981, the year Mitterrand was elected President and the Socialist Party formed the first socialist government of the Fifth Republic, Rocard adhered to Mitterrand's policy of supporting the maintenance of France's nuclear force. By the early 1980s, there was an acceptance by Socialist Party leaders that France's nuclear force was a fait accompli which could not be destroyed without placing national security in jeopardy. Rocard has indicated that while he and the President have had their differences over economic and financial policy, he has never felt the slightest anxiety over Mitterrand's conduct of France's defence policy.(5)

    Rocard was visibly perturbed by the kiwi fixation with French nuclear testing during his interview with Paul Holmes on Television One on 30 April 1991. Confronted with insistent questioning over the safety of the nuclear test facilities at Moruroa, Rocard affirmed "There is not the slightest danger". He had stated at a Wellington press conference the day before that if there were any risk involved, France would not have had personnel on the atoll. During the Rocard visit, the New Zealand National Radiation Laboratory publicly supported Rocard's statements.

    Groups which contested his statements included Greenpeace, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In June 1991, Greenpeace released a report indicating that radionuclides had been detected in the waters around Moruroa. The debate over what environmental damage, if any, radiation from French underground testing was causing can be expected to continue in years to come, until a thorough underwater survey of Moruroa's atoll walls is conducted.

    Although remaining at loggerheads with environmentalists over Moruroa, Rocard indicated that France shared a common stance with New Zealand on a number of environmental issues. He repeatedly praised New Zealand's efforts in campaigning for a mining moratorium in Antarctica, and pointed out that France, like New Zealand, was opposed to drift net fishing. In his Beehive speech, he declared that the French government had ordered a halt on runway construction at the French Antarctic base of Dumont d'Urville until independent assessment could be made of the impact any extensions would have on nearby penguin nesting grounds. This was a concession to Greenpeace complaints about the construction.

    In Christchurch on 30 April, a Greenpeace representative congratulated Rocard on France's Antarctic initiatives, and presented him with a report prepared by a number of environmental groups which recommended an end to construction work on the runway. At the same meeting, Rocard and the French Minister for the Environment, Brice Lalonde, also agreed to consider a proposal for funding the protection of tropical forests in the South Pacific. While France and New Zealand environmentalists have had their differences, Rocard's discussions during his visit showed that there was room for dialogue, and that some common ground existed over environmental issues.

    Another contentious topic of discussion during Rocard's tour was international trade. Like the nuclear question, Rocard's comments on New Zealand trade with Europe, and the Uruguay Round of the GATT negotiations served to confirm that, however well-intentioned his visit, major policy differences remained between France and New Zealand.

    As a former president of the European Council of Agriculture Ministers in 1984, and with his experience as a Minister of Agriculture in the Fabius administration, Rocard was well qualified to made pertinent observations concerning France's view of international trade. On other occasions, Rocard had displayed understanding of New Zealand's position regarding access for its primary produce to the European Community. In 1984, he used his authority on the European Council of Agriculture Minister to preserve New Zealand's level of access to the European market at a level somewhat higher than France and other members desired.

    While sympathetic, Rocard has also evinced an outlook on trade matters which, however realistic it might be, is at odds with the demands of New Zealand exporters for free access to the European market. During his visit to New Zealand in February 1985, Rocard warned government, opposition and trade officials that New Zealand should no longer consider Europe as its primary market for agricultural exports, and should seek to develop export markets elsewhere. Prior to his latest visit, he pointed out that New Zealand was by no means going to be excluded from the European market, but a gradual reduction of access was necessary in light of Europe's problems in dealing with its own overproduction of primary produce.(6)

    Rocard accepts protectionism as a necessity for France's agricultural sector and has shown some scepticism toward the apostles of the international free market. He has pointed out that deregulation remains a far from universally accepted idea, particularly in the agricultural sector -

"No agriculture lives under a regime of free enterprise nor of free exchange. Protective measures, regulations and subsidies are widespread, the champions being the Swiss and the Japanese, which is amusing as they are not niggard in the lessons they believe they give us as far as free enterprise is concerned.(7)

    He has characterised trade rivalries between the world's leading agricultural exporters as a "gigantic commercial battle characterised by both extreme violence and great absurdity".(8)

    Faced with such a situation, France, like other countries, has every right to protect its producers from the harm foreign imports could cause them. While recognising the necessity of obtaining parallel reductions in national production levels, Rocard believes that any new international regulatory agreement must recognise each nation's interest in maintaining its agricultural sector.

    During his visit, Rocard's observations echoed these sentiments. Speaking to the French Business Council on 29 April 1991, he said that "we [French] will continue, of course, to accord the greatest importance to the well-being of our farmers, above all the more disadvantaged one among them. That's just natural." He admitted that European farmers' overproduction of 110% to 115% required correction, but emphasised that this would take time because of the complexity of restructuring Europe's economy to establish "the marriage of market efficiency, the guarantee of a system of social protection, and the pluralism of political life".(9)

    Paradoxically, Rocard rejected the image of a "Fortress Europe"at the meeting. He pointed out that Europe still constituted New Zealand's second biggest market after Australia, absorbing nearly 20% of its exports, but failed to indicate how long this situation would last given the need for progressive diminution of New Zealand access. Understandably, New Zealand officials would have regarded his assertion that the European Community is "the most open commercial power in the world" with some scepticism.(10) Similarly, his belief that New Zealand's produce would maintain its standing on the European market due to its quality is of little consolation to New Zealand officials frustrated by the European Community's quota levels.

    On the topic of the GATT negotiations, Rocard criticised the Cairns Group for its opposition to protectionism, an opposition which he believed placed New Zealand and other members on the outer fringe of negotiations. Rocard felt that the Group would have been in a better bargaining position if it had moderated its demands for reform. He also believed that unnecessary emphasis had been placed on agriculture in the negotiations, considering that agricultural produce accounted for only 13% of global trade. As with European Community trade issues, New Zealand would have to be patient, for the GATT negotiations would require careful, considered dialogue to obtain a conclusion satisfactory to all parties. He reminded his audience that even successful negotiations would not solve all of France's or New Zealand's economic problems.(11)

    In the field of economic policy, Rocard's successor, Edith Cresson, has also displayed a concern for protecting France's domestic producers against foreign competition, particularly Japanese imports. The economic outlook favouring protectionism outlined by Rocard during his New Zealand visit retains its validity as an expression of French economic concerns.

    Rocard's visit to New Zealand formed part of a wider policy of cultivating France's image in the South Pacific. In his efforts, Rocard experienced some success. During his administration, France enjoyed an improvement in its relations, not only with New Zealand but also with Australia and other South Pacific Forum members. An important reason for France's improved image was Rocard's handling of the New Caledonian problem.

    Rocard's first major initiative as Prime Minister was to organise discussions between New Caledonia's pro-independence and French loyalist parties. The resultant agreement, the Matignon Accords, outlined a ten year development plan for New Caledonia, then planned to be concluded with a referendum on independence in 1998. Rocard's success in reopening political dialogue in New Caledonia is likely to be recognised in years to come as his most important achievement as Prime Minister.

    Earlier, he had criticised other administrations for failing to address the political problems of New Caledonia and France's other Overseas Departments and Territories. He stressed that increased aid and new statutes were in themselves insufficient, and would not produce lasting solutions. New Caledonia illustrated his argument well. Successive plans formulated by socialist and conservative metropolitan French governments had failed to lessen the Territory's problems.

    Rocard wrote that aid and legislation had to form components of a broader social contract between the French government and local political leaders. Administrative powers should be devolved so that local institutions could control their own development. With the Matignon Accords, Rocard implemented these ideas. Although not a solution to all of the New Caledonia's problems, the Accords have aided political stability in the Territory.

    Rocard's South Pacific tour in 1989 was particularly significant in following up the signature of the Accords. Prime Minister Bob Hawke indicated during Rocard's visit to Canberra that France's relations with Australia had improved considerably as a result of Rocard's actions over New Caledonia. In July 1989, at its meting in Kiribati, it was Hawke who had urged that the South Pacific Forum congratulate Rocard for his efforts. Like New Zealand, Australia still differs with France over nuclear testing and trade issue, but in other areas France and Australia have displayed a concordance of views. The French and Australian initiative in proposing a moratorium on Antarctic mining is a notable example.

    Rocard's visit to Australia furthered discussions on scientific and technical co-operation, and the co-ordination of aid distribution in the South Pacific. In May 1990, Australia established the Australia-France Foundation to oversee the development of bilateral co-operation.

    France's visit to Fiji in August 1989 furthered relations which had already improved considerably since France's recognition of the post-coup regime in 1987. Following the coup, French aid had filled a vacuum left by Australia and New Zealand, much to those nations' chagrin. Of particular significance during the Fijian visit was Rocard's meeting with the Secretary-General of the South Pacific Forum, Henry Naisali. The latter commented after the meeting that the Forum's relations with France had experienced "a 180 degree turn" after the signature of the Matignon Accords. He also stated that "we [the Forum] recognise that France has a central role to play in the Pacific".(12) Such statements were a major improvement after the animosities which had previously existed between France and the Forum although again, French testing remained a point of disagreement until its end in January 1996.

    In improving relations both within France's Pacific Territories, and with their neighbours, Rocard's aim was to maintain a bridgehead for France which would permit increased trade with the region in the future. Speaking in Christchurch on 30 April 1991, he declared that for durable economic development to occur in France's Pacific Territories, further co-operation and trade with their South Pacific neighbours was required. Rocard outlined his hope that, through increased trade, aid, and cultural and technical exchanges with New Zealand and other South Pacific nations, France could contribute to the region's development and encourage its stability.

    Rocard's resignation from the post of Prime Minister two weeks after his departure from New Zealand, and the formation of a New Socialist Party administration under the leadership of Edith Cresson begged the question of what wider implications Rocard's visit to New Zealand held. In the years that followed, no major change in France's attitude toward the South Pacific in terms of developing links occurred. The major redefinition which did impinge on regional relations came in the area of defence policy. The decision to abandon nuclear testing in French Polynesia in January 1996 opened the way to yet closer co-operation between France and the nations of the South Pacific. The first full state visit made by a New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, to Paris in late October 1997, can be seen as another step forward in improved Franco-New Zealand relations, following up the impetus provided by Rocard some six years earlier, and in the wake of the end of French testing.



1 See Le Monde 19 August 1989 p.3.

2 Quote from the Beehive speech notes. Translations here and below are the author's.

3 For example, Chris Rosie wrote that Rocard "is tarred with the brush that painted the Rainbow Warrior picture" because of his membership in the Fabius administration. NZ Herald 29 April 1991.

4 Robert Schneider, Michel Rocard, Paris 1987 p.219.

5 Michel Rocard, Le coeur à l'ouvrage, Paris 1987 p.219.

6 The Dominion 29 April 1991 pp. 1, 2.

7 Rocard ibid., p.196.

8 Ibid.

9 French Business Council speech notes.

10 Ibid.

11 Rocard, ibid., p.289.

12 Le Monde 24 August 1989 p.20.


First published in New Zealand International Review September/October 1991

© Wayne Stuart McCallum  1991


5. The Andriès Arrest: The View from France

The incident as viewed by Plantu of Le Monde (28 November 1991): President Mitterrand: "WHAT AGAIN?"

Doctor, reading a chart that says "OPINION POLL": "Say, didn't you get a "Rainbow Warrior" transfusion in '85?"

In November 1991, French agent Gérald Andriès was arrested by the Swiss police. Initially giving the story page one treatment, the French media quickly lost interest. Wayne McCallum looks at how the French media portrayed the arrest of one of the alleged saboteurs of the Rainbow Warrior.


It was quite gratifying to see New Zealand on the front pages of France's newspapers only days after my arrival in Paris in November 1991. Having travelled there to conduct research on France's role in the South Pacific, witnessing French reactions to yet another chapter in the long and absurd saga of the Rainbow Warrior bombing was quite opportune.


Opportune, because it offered the chance to monitor the view from “the other side”. Paradoxically, while I can offer an overview of how the French media portrayed the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Gérald Andriès, having only been back in the country little more than a week at the time of writing I have not been able to review New Zealand media coverage of the event. Although this leaves things a bit one-sided, it is assumed that New Zealand readers would already be familiar with what the local media said.


Warrant Officer Gérald Andriès, 36 years of age, also known as Eric Audremer and Eric Audrenc, was arrested on Saturday 23 November 1991 by the Swiss police. Known to New Zealanders for assisting with Operation Satanic, which resulted in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour on 10 July 1985, Andriès left the DGSE (Directorate General for External Security) in 1987, giving up secret service work to join the military. Since then, he has held a posting with the 2nd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (RPIMA) on the island of Réunion, and at the time of his arrest was working as an instructor for the 6th RPIMA at Mont-1e-Marsan camp in Landes, in the south-west of France.


Andriès was arrested as the result of a routine passport check by Swiss officials on a trainload of passengers arriving in Basel. He had a train ticket from Sarrebourg to the Swiss town of Lausanne, and intended to change trains at Basel to complete his journey. His only form of identification was a French driver's licence. This led to a security check which revealed that Andriès was still wanted by the New Zealand police for his part in the Rainbow Warrior bombing. The Swiss promptly jailed him, and informed New Zealand authorities of the fact the same day. Confirmation that the warrant for Andriès arrest was still valid came from New Zealand on Tuesday, 26 November.


 News of the incident was revealed in the French media on Wednesday. The daily Le Monde was among the first with the news, managing to print half a column of text on the last page of its Wednesday 27 November edition. Le Monde has the peculiarity that it reaches the news stands the evening before its date of publication, so it is possible to read the Wednesday edition on Tuesday evening. Le Monde gave a brief résumé of the events, accompanied by a quick biography of Andriès under the headline "one of the presumed authors of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior: An ex-agent of the DGSE arrested in Switzerland". On page 8 of Le Figaro, there was a large article covering a third of the page, with a photo of Andriès, under the headline; "Strange arrest of an ex-agent of the DGSE: Rainbow Warrior: the Affair Resurfaces". In this article, Le Figaro asked a key question: "How was Warrant Officer Gérald Andriès, initiated to all the intricacies of the secret services, able to commit the double error of travelling without papers and of leaving France, that only country where he was not under the threat of an international arrest warrant, French law forbidding the extradition of a Frenchman to another country?"


 It was a good question. Had Andriès merely assumed he could travel to Switzerland without incident? He had not been stopped on previous visits to the country. Moreover, Andriès had travelled to Vietnam in April 1991 to act as military advisor for a Pierre Schoendoerffer film on the battle of Dien Bien Phu. No problems there. Vietnamese immigration officials were, it seems, less meticulous than the Swiss...


           Or were there other reasons for the arrest? Andriès is considered to be a bit of a stirrer in French government and military circles. In September 1987, an unidentified man claiming to be a DGSE agent was interviewed on the French TV channel Antenne 2. He used the spot to denounce the "betrayal" of Operation Satanic agents by Socialist Ministers under the Fabius government in 1985. Shortly afterwards, according to Le Figaro, Andriès was arrested on the order of Defence Ministry officials. Around the same time, a supposedly tell-all insider's account of the Rainbow Warrior bombing called Mission Oxygène was published.(1) The book, whose author worked under a pseudonym, was also the result of interviews with an anonymous DGSE agent, and came to the same conclusions as the anonymous interviewee on Antenne 2: our patriotic agents were shanghaied by the nasty Socialists. Le Figaro quoted another member of the Operation Satanic Team, Doctor Xavier Maniguet, who said at the time that Andriès must have been the author's informant "because what was revealed there (in the book) could only have been revealed by him". Was Andriès attempting again to embarrass the Socialist Government with a pointed reminder of his existence? Or perhaps he wanted to create source material for another "tell-all" book? Assuming this was his aim, it couldn't do much harm to his military career, as he was scheduled to be discharged in April 1992 and had been training for a civilian post.


 Libération, the Parisian paper of the trendy left, likewise pointed out that if Andriès ever testified before a New Zealand court, the results could be nerve-racking for those involved in Operation Satanic.


            In its 28 November edition, Le Monde, belonging to a more cautious school of journalism, did not muse on such unconfirmable speculation, although cartoonist Plantu's drawing on page one (see above) pointed to the obvious damage that a return of the Rainbow Warrior affair might inflict on a Socialist Government that had been doing badly in the public opinion polls for several months. On page 11, half a page was devoted to the affair, concentrating on the New Zealand Government's position as a result of the arrest. In the first article, foreign affairs minister Don McKinnon was quoted as saying "The arbitration completed concerning the Rainbow Warrior under the auspices of the United Nations did not concern the French agents who were aboard the yacht Ouvéa. It only concerned Alain Mafart and Dominque Prieur".(2) Jim Bolger was quoted saying that New Zealand should "in no way make (the affair) into a media or political operation". The emphasis of the official statements quoted was on New Zealand's hope that the arrest would be treated according to normal judicial procedures.


            The second article on page 11 was an opinion piece by Edwy Plenel, one of Le Monde's political reporters. The article, entitled "An unjustified relentlessness", was a lengthy condemnation of New Zealand's position. Plenel opened with the declaration that "New Zealand's attitude is politically impassioned and judicially debatable". Gérald Andriès was excused for being "an "underling" who [...] only carried out a political order". Plenel had written earlier in Le Monde(3) that the Rainbow Warrior affair had been resolved once and for all with the conclusion of international arbitration in May 1990, and was clearly determined to maintain this view. "In stubbornly demanding the extradition of Gérald Andriès, Wellington is contradicting itself and cannot avoid ridicule. It is understood that the French attitude has left, in this antipodean country, a lasting feeling of humiliation. But its citizens and leaders would be wrong to associate French public opinion with the changes of mind of politicians responsible for the Greenpeace affair. In 1985, France broke the law, today New Zealand is on the wrong track."


 Le Figaro also went on the offensive on 28 November. In an article called "Wellington in the fog" (p.11), the impression was given that New Zealand was dithering in not acting to extradite Andriès, even though only five days had elapsed since his arrest: "For the time being, the authorities in Wellington seem to be shilly-shallying". Le Figaro developed this theory in its 30 November - 1 December edition in an article entitled "New Zealand hesitates to demand the extradition of Gérald Andriès (...)" (p.6). It was a dubious conclusion and it is doubtful that the French judiciary would have reacted any faster faced with similar conditions.


            The 30 November edition of Le Figaro also included a report from a special envoy sent to Switzerland to find out the conditions of Andriès' imprisonment. The two articles occupied a full half page. It is interesting that Le Figaro was still devoting so much attention to the story, as by the end of the week the rest of the French dailies had largely lost interest.


 Coverage in the regional press, and French radio and TV, had given great prominence to the arrest on 27 November, but this did not last. On the 27th, the headline "The Rainbow Warrior resurfaces" or some variation thereof (French newspaper editors are, it seems, as unimaginative in their headlines as many of their New Zealand counterparts) made the front page of numerous regional dailies, including Le Courrier de l'Ouest (Anjou), L'Yonne Républicaine, L'Est Républicaine, L'Union (Reims), La Nouvelle Republique du Centre-Ouest (L'Indre-et-Loire), and La Dépêche du Midi (Toulouse). Other regional dailies such as Paris Normandie (Rouen), La Voix Du Nord (Lille), and La Marseillaise (Marseille), devoted a quarter of a page or less to the story somewhere between their covers. By 28 November, the story had largely vanished from the regional press, and elsewhere.


            Had the New Zealand Government promptly demanded extradition, Andriès might have remained on many more front pages, but failing that, most of the French media rapidly lost interest. Lack of statements from the French government also failed to fuel the story from the French end. The French Foreign Affairs Ministry commented that the Rainbow Warrior affair was considered by the French Government to be closed. End of story. There were to be no daily revelations of the sort headlined in 1985. By Saturday 30 November 1991, for lack of news in Paris, Le Monde (p.5) was reduced to reporting the reactions of the New Zealand press, and the antics of a TVNZ news team arrested on 28 November for filming outside the DGSE's Parisian HQ. The team was reported as having failed to take heed of notices forbidding filming, resulting in the arrest of four people and the confiscation of their video cassette before being released. Le Figaro claimed on 30 November that only two TVNZ employees were arrested.


            The French weekly news magazines did not accord the Andriès arrest any great prominence, although brief articles did appear. Le Point (30 November 1991, p.7) ran a half page article in its news digest section, and L'Express (5 December 1991, p.74) ran a background piece on the story of the Rainbow Warrior bombing.


 Throughout December, very little else was reported. Le Monde noted Jim Bolger's declaration on 2 December (p.34) that the Rainbow Warrior affair "was finished", which sent a clear message to the judiciary about what he wanted them to decide. This statement seemed to invalidate his earlier declaration in Le Monde (29 November 1991 p.4) about "respecting [...] the independence of the judiciary". When the Minister of Justice, Doug Graham, finally announced on 17 December 1991 New Zealand's decision not to extradite Gérald Andriès, the event was noted as a matter of record in the French press. For example, on 18 December Le Monde recycled an Agence France Presse report for its article, with a brief commentary by Patrice de Beer, who commended the New Zealand Government for its decision: "Despite the pressure of a large part of public opinion, and by Greenpeace, the conservative government, moreover at its lowest in the opinion polls, seems to have chosen the path of appeasement. It is with a certain amount of courage that the government of Mr. Bolger has chosen this final logic".

 Fortunately for the French Socialist Government, this coda to the Rainbow Warrior affair did not fulfil its scandal-creating potential, and appears insignificant compared with a series of other affairs that proved extremely damaging for the reputations of Prime Minister Edith Cresson and her ministers. Placed alongside the blood transfusion scandal, allegations of Socialist corruption in real estate deals at La Défense, and the Habache affair, the arrest of Gérald Andriès was, for the French, little more than a flash in the pan.




1 Mission Oxygène, by Patrick du Morne Vert, Filipacchi, Paris, 1987.

2 All New Zealand Government statements in this article are English translations of French translations of original quotes. My apologies if they do not quite match the original statements.

3 See Plenel's article, "A page permanently turned..." Le Monde 9 May 1990 p.5, cowritten with Patrice de Beer.


Originally published in The New Zealand Monthly Review March/April 1992 pp.27-29.


© Wayne Stuart McCallum 1992.








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