China Circles French Polynesia

Jiansan Jia, deputy director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department at the United Nations (left), President of Tahiti Nui Ocean Foods Wang Cheng (center), and President of French Polynesia Edouard Fritch (right) on the Hoa atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia on May 6, 2015GREGORY BOISSY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

China Circles French Polynesia – Tablet Magazine

Will the demands of U.S. naval strategy and French pride be enough to keep Beijing at bay?


It took me a while to understand how things really work in French Polynesia. We are talking about approximately 120 scattered islands, dispersed in the South Pacific Ocean, occupying a maritime area roughly the size of the European continent.

When I first arrived, I spent much of my time in Papeete, the capital, on Tahiti. The first thing that grabbed my attention there was the sizable Chinese presence, aside from the Maohi (Polynesian Maori) population, and the many signs in the center of Papeete written both in French and Chinese.

I was born in Florence, Italy, in a neighborhood home to one of Europe’s largest Chinese communities, and so I am used to bars, restaurants, and commercial hubs with Chinese signs. Still, I think it is natural that I, or anyone, should wonder how so many Chinese ended up, literally, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, otherwise known as the middle of nowhere, and what it means for the balance of power over the next century in a region of the world that the Chinese Communist Party believes it is destined to dominate.


French Polynesia, much like the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands—both major maritime passageways—offers a good amount of untapped resources that China needs to feed its hungry industries and people. It also represents a voting bloc that China needs to expand its foreign power in international institutions that have been conditioned over the past decades to serve Chinese interests, and whose membership benefits from Chinese investment and sometimes security assistance. The Pacific islands represent an important part of China’s maritime Silk Road, with China trying to include them in its Belt and Road Initiative by boosting economic aid, investing in infrastructure projects, and replacing diplomatic ties to Taipei with diplomatic ties to Beijing.

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