Macron: France owes 'debt' to Polynesians over nuclear tests

France Polynesia Macron

PAPEETE, French Polynesia (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has reasserted his nation's presence in the Pacific on a visit to French Polynesia, a trip aimed at countering growing Chinese dominance in the region.

The trip was also designed to underline the French government's support for Polynesians and heal wounds over French nuclear testing on the former colony's atolls, half a planet away from Paris.

Macron stopped short of apologizing Tuesday, but acknowledged France's “debt” to Polynesians over the underground and atmospheric tests, which ran from 1966-1996. Polynesian demonstrators welcomed his words, but said they're waiting to see if he follows up with actions.

Macron promised money for cyclone shelters to help the island territory cope with climate change, and more help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in a region where most islands have no airport, and reaching emergency medical services can take hours or even days.

His hosts showered him with garlands upon arrival in Tahiti, and on the Marquesas Islands, singers in traditional straw skirts intoned the “Marseillaise” while Macron, in his standard suit and tie, stood at attention. Before he left, he was given a ceremonial Polynesian bowl called an umete and the region’s president said the bowl would carry Macron's promises home with him.

Macron said Polynesians “touched him to the heart,” and that France’s communities in the Sou