Consul General of France in San Francisco shares military, business, cultural ties to Hawaiʻi
Hawaiʻi's connection with France dates back to early missionary days when French priests arrived on our shores. These days, there are strategic military and business interests increasing in the region.
Perhaps the most recent road bumps in French-U.S. relations involve the Paris Climate Accords and a submarine deal between Australia and France that got torpedoed when Australia went with the U.S. instead.
Frédéric Jung recently took over as Consul General of France in San Francisco — one of 10 in American cities. He covers the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific islands, including Hawaiʻi and Guam.
Jung arrived in the islands this weekend for a meet and greet visit ahead of Veterans Day — and to talk about increasing efforts to strengthen ties in this region. He said he expects to see more emphasis on strengthening diplomatic relations in the Pacific region.
Interview Highlights from Frédéric Jung
On France's military relationship with the state and the country
I represent the Ambassador of France here in the Pacific and Pacific Northwest. And I came mostly to honor, in his name, Nisei Veterans who participated in the Campaign of 1944 in France and who were awarded the Legion of Honor for their service and who contributed to the liberation of France. So it was very important to us to pay tribute to them. And so I had the chance to bestow them with the Legion of Honor of France.
As you know, France is one of the closest neighbors of the U.S. and of Hawaiʻi. We are locals in the Pacific, if I may say, with our presence in French Polynesia, in New Caledonia. These are French territories with 2 million French citizens. And obviously, we are a Pacific nation in this regard. And that's why our military is very present here in the Pacific and we do have many French Navy ships that do stopovers in Hawaiʻi, and in other U.S. territories, like Guam, for example. And so yes, absolutely — we have great cooperation with our American counterparts. And I just met with representatives of the Pacific Fleet here in Pearl Harbor. And they say the cooperation with their French counterparts is absolutely outstanding.
On the recent period of crisis due to a submarine deal involving Australia, the U.S., and France
We've been through a period of crisis, if I may say, in the past weeks with the announcement by the U.S. of a submarine deal with Australia, which actually put an end to a previous submarine deal between France and Australia. And this was perceived as a great deception on the side of France, and therefore we had to engage in high-level discussions. And U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron talked about this back in September, and they met to discuss this in Rome on Oct. 29 — because there was a need to really rebuild trust between these two old allies. You know, we like to consider ourselves as the oldest allies, we fought alongside the U.S. for the independence of a country. And we were very disappointed by the submarine deal, which put an end to our deal. And so, therefore, there was a need to rebuild trust. And this is what happened at this meeting in Rome. And they agreed on some very specific measures to, you know, build trust in the future.
(Surprise) was one major part of the problem, which is this deal occurred without any notice from the U.S. side towards us. And we were really taken by surprise. And this has commercial implications, you know, for all the workers that were involved in that project and have been for the past years. But it also has strategic implications. This was not only a commercial deal, but it was also a strategic partnership, and so this needs to be repaired, and this happened without notice. And this is why we need to rebuild trust with our U.S. partners.
On the strong French community here in Hawaiʻi
We have 700 French citizens that are registered here in the Hawaiʻi islands, and probably twice or three times even more actually present and it's very important that the consulate also reaches out and comes to them. We have an outstanding Honorary Consul here, Guillaume Maman, who is the day-to-day face of the French Consulate locally. But it's very important that as a Consul General, I come to Hawaiʻi regularly to meet with this French community — hear also, you know, their concerns, their challenges, and that I contribute to good dialogue with this community.
Besides the military and political discussions that we just mentioned, allow me also to mention the business ties we have. French companies are actually the second foreign employer for jobs here in Hawaiʻi. So French companies are themselves very important for the economy of Hawaiʻi, of the state of Hawaiʻi. And beyond that ... we have very strong cultural exchanges. Obviously, Honolulu, Waikiki all these names mean a lot, and surfing means a lot to the French. But besides that, we have this festival, which you mentioned, which occurs every year, which allows Hawaiian culture to come all the way to France.
On the lifting of restrictions for vaccinated travelers entering the U.S.
On the business and culture side, things will probably increase again, and just a parenthesis — this is a great relief for all those French citizens that were here, because for those who didn't have either U.S. citizenship or a green card, they were not in the capacity to go to France and come back here to Hawaiʻi. So this created many difficult humanitarian situations. So the lifting of a travel ban is a very important thing that I really wanted to highlight. I'm confident that business ties and cultural ties will increase now that we have a way forward on the political and strategic side between President Macron and President Biden, I'm confident this will go forward also. And again, France really wants to do the same that the U.S. is doing in reinforcing its presence in the Pacific, through its service for its territories, and through its military presence, given the challenges that we face in this geographic part of the world.
This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 10, 2021.