French President Emmanuel Macron denounced “new imperialism” in the Pacific during a landmark visit to the region on Thursday, warning of a threat to the sovereignty of smaller states. Macron — speaking in Vanuatu on the first visit by a sitting French leader to an independent Pacific Island state — sought to offer a French alternative in a region where the US and China are competing for influence. “There is in the Indo-Pacific, and particularly in Oceania, new imperialism appearing, and a power logic that is threatening the sovereignty of several states — the smallest, often the most fragile,” Macron said in a speech. “Our Indo-Pacific strategy is above all to defend through partnerships the independence and sovereignty of all states in the region that are ready to work with us.” China is seeking to expand its influence in the South Pacific, notably making inroads in Solomon Islands, with which it signed a secretive defence pact last year. Beijing also maintains sweeping, contested claims over the South China Sea. The United States — the dominant military force in the South Pacific since World War II — has responded by announcing new aid, opening embassies in the region, and signing pacts including a recent defence deal with Papua New Guinea.