A professor of anthropology and Pacific studies says it is his guess people in New Caledonia will want to delay the referendum on independence.
A referendum is due between 2014 and 2018 under the 1998 Noumea Accord on greater autonomy, which provides for a phased and irreversible transfer of power from Paris.
Serge Tcherkezoff has told a conference on democracy in the Pacific people in New Caledonia fear the impact of having clear-cut winners and losers.
He says they want more time to work out the detail surrounding a common destiny, the basis for the accord.
"I have the feeling that idea of building a common destiny is already difficult enough. They feel it is not the time to suddenly be divided in two blocs ... who wants to stay in France, who wants to be independent."
Professor Tcherkezoff says there are legal avenues to have the referendum indefinitely postponed.