The South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia voted against independence from France on Sunday in a long-awaited referendum that capped a 30-year long decolonization process.
A "yes" vote would have deprived Paris of a foothold in the Indo-Pacific region where China is expanding its presence, and dented the pride of a former colonial power whose reach once spanned the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Ocean.
Based on provisional results and with a participation rate of nearly 80 percent, the "No" vote stood at 56.9 percent around 1300 GMT, local TV station NC La 1ere reported on its website.
"The New Caledonians have chosen to remain French...It is a vote of confidence in the French republic, its future and its values," President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech on French television.
The referendum was the first auto-determination vote to be held in a French territory since Djibouti in the Horn of Africa voted for independence in 1977.
Voters in the largely self-governing territory had been asked the question, "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"
Macron said he understood the disappointment of those who wanted independence, but added that the French state would ensure liberty, equality and fraternity for everyone.
"The only loser is the temptation of contempt, division, violence and fear; the only winner is the process of peace and the spirit of dialogue," Macron said.
Tensions have long run deep between pro-independence indigenous Kanaks and descendants of colonial settlers who remain loyal to Paris.