Why is a small French island territory revolting?

You know protests have gotten out of hand when the government bans both TikTok and alcohol sales — which is exactly what happened this week in New Caledonia. 

Driving the news: France has imposed a state of emergency on the Indo-Pacific island territory of New Caledonia after days of rioting killed five and injured at least 300 people. A thousand police reinforcements were sent in to “regain control” of certain areas. 

Why it’s happening: This week, French lawmakers voted to allow French nationals who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years to vote in elections there, upsetting swaths of the island’s pro-independence movement, namely the Indigenous Kanak population.

  • Previously, only people living on the island before 1998 and their descendants could vote in elections — a rule that was part of an accord granting more sovereignty to the Kanaks.

Why it matters: This small island territory we’d never really thought about is the world’s third-largest nickel producer, making it a vital cog in the global critical mineral supply chain. Since the riots broke out, nickel prices have surged over fears of supply disruptions.  

  • In a stroke of perfect timing, a just-published International Energy Agency report flagged nickel as a critical mineral that’s vulnerable to “substantial geopolitical risks.”

Big picture: France’s interior minister has accused Russia, China, and… *checks notes* Azerbaijan of “interfering” with New Caledonia and stoking the protests. Whether or not this is true, the accusation highlights the growing East vs. West tension in the Indo-Pacific.—QH