Some people say there are four main languages for the new millennium: Chinese, English, Arabic and Spanish. Margie Sudre's mission is to say 'there is another', or rather 'il y a une autre'. Last week France's secretary of state for Francophone Affairs made a seven-day visit to Asia - to Cambodia and Vietnam where she is optimistic about promoting French, and to Hong Kong where she is not. Ms Sudre's mission is simple: to promote French, or rather 'Francophonie' which she describes as 'a war machine against the English language'. Not to beat it, she emphasised in French. 'It would be impossible to usurp English'. But also not to join it. This is not the petty (from the French petit meaning small) battles of the French Academy against popular 'Frenglishisms' (or, as the French put it, Franglais) like le weekend or le catwalk, le CD, and (a sore point) l'internet. This is an effort to make French heard (and, of course, understood) in the world of communications and trade, as well as more traditional areas of diplomacy, arts, and, perhaps, romance. Some in France murmur it is impossible to stem the tide, and that it is a waste of money. But Ms Sudre insists tax-payers are happy to pay US$1 billion (HK$7.74 billion) a year to promote French internationally. Her visit came eight months before a summit of French-speaking nations in Vietnam: the first ever in Asia. The last summit, in Africa's Benin two years ago, is said to have cost US$20 million, of which Paris provided 70 per cent. The 49 member countries formed an official community of Francophone nations 11 years ago as an alternative to the British Commonwealth. The group includes all French-speaking countries except Algeria, and several other countries with what might be seen as nostalgic connections to Francophonie. Hanoi is a strange choice for this November's big meeting, she agrees. 'I'm aware that not that many people in Vietnam speak French any more,' said Ms Sudre, who was born in Saigon at the end of French colonisation, the daughter of Vietnamese and French parents. More people speak Russian than French in Vietnam, and now - as in neighbouring Cambodia - officials are putting away their French grammars in favour of English lessons. Previous meetings have been in Quebec, Senegal, Paris, Mauritius and Benin. But Ms Sudre said it was not against the spirit of Francophonie to have the meeting in a place where most people's French goes no further than cafe au lait and sometimes not even the lait. 'It gives Vietnam links with so many other countries.' And of course, it brings the focus of the meeting to one of the fastest developing areas of the world. Looking back through the news reports, it is evident that her job involves a great deal of reiteration of France's 'desire for continued and substantial co-operation' with the other 48 countries, and the rest of the world. And she has fought her ground, often controversially. In Atlanta last year she was one of the (many) banes of the mostly Anglophone committee by insisting that the French language be given its full due, as the second official language of the Olympic Games. Bilingual scoreboards, a team of 1,000 interpreters and Ms Sudre's presence guaranteed that people celebrated Les Jeux Olympiques in French. She is a relatively late convert to the cause: the woman who is responsible for promoting the language of France did not actually speak it much before she was eight years old. 'I grew up learning to speak and write Vietnamese. I went to the lycee in Vietnam for one year, and then we went to live in France, so I had to learn the language quickly,' Ms Sudre said. She has lived in one of France's far-flung possessions, Reunion in the Indian Ocean, for more than 20 years, and counts it as home. A qualified doctor, she worked for years as an anaesthetist at a private clinic. She and her husband, also a doctor, set up a radio station called Free Dom (a title that puns on the French term for Reunion's status as an overseas department of France.) She is the first to admit that her political career has happened by a series of strange chances. Her husband, Camille, became involved in local politics and was elected president of the Reunion Regional Council. But in 1993 his election was annulled by the French State Council - for overspending on his campaign. They had separated three years before, 'but there was never war between us: he's my best friend'. So it seemed somehow natural that another Sudre should pick up the trail and she was voted in. Then, two years ago, Jacques Chirac arrived in Reunion during his presidential election campaign. Ms Sudre met him at a party. When he won the presidency, Mr Chirac asked his prime minister, Alain Juppe, to appoint women, and Ms Sudre was one of 12 who were picked: they became known in France as les Jupettes, or 'the miniskirts'. Eight were dismissed before long, but Ms Sudre survived both the purge and the gossiping about her friendship with Mr Chirac. It has been an odd, busy couple of years, she said. As for the future, she might stay in politics 'or I might go back to Reunion and work as a doctor again'. She has many anecdotes about how people are surprised at her role. Once, she was in a diplomatic convoy in Egypt. A host of French politicians in limousines cruised towards the pyramids. 'And there were two tourists from France, who peered through the glass. 'That's Jacques Chirac, they said. And that's Francois Bayrou [the Education Minister]. 'Then they looked at my car and said, 'she's not one of them: she's not French',' laughed Ms Sudre. 'It often surprises people to see a minister who is un peu exotique.'