The U.N. General Assembly on Friday put French Polynesia on the global body's decolonization list at a meeting boycotted by France.
The resolution, passed by consensus in the 193 member assembly, was called for by the Solomon Islands and other Pacific states who back the Pacific territory's pro-independence parties.
The vote places French Polynesia on the U.N. decolonization list along with 16 other territories around the world, including the British-ruled Falkland islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The resolution "affirms the right of the people of French Polynesia to self-determination and independence." It calls on the French government to "facilitate rapid progress" towards self-determination.
Though the move is largely symbolic, Britain, the United States, Germany and the Netherlands all disassociated themselves from the consensus vote.
France sent a letter to other U.N. members on Thursday announcing it would not be taking part in the debate.
"The right to self-determination cannot be exercised against the will of the concerned populations," said the French mission to the U.N. in the letter.
Polynesia's pro-independence party asked for the territory to be put back on the U.N. list when it controlled the government in 2011.
But the pro-independence lost an election this month and the government is now controlled by a party that backs the existing autonomy granted by France.
The U.N. vote was held on the day that independence leader Oscar Temaru handed over the presidency to the pro-autonomy Gaston Flosse. The territory's assembly passed a resolution on Wednesday calling for the U.N. vote to be postponed.
France annexed different parts of Polynesia during the 19th century. The territory of about 275,000 people is best known now for tourist island of Tahiti and for the French nuclear tests carried out there up to the mid-1990s.
It was on the U.N. decolonization list from 1946 until 1986.
Solomon Islands U.N. ambassador Collin Beck, who introduced the resolution with Nauru, Tuvalu, Samoa, Vanuatu and East Timor, told the General Assembly there was "wide international support" for putting Polynesia back on the list.
"The map of decolonizing remains an unfinished business of the United Nations," Beck said.
The result of elections in French Polynesia "must never be equated with a referendum" on self-determination, he added.
Britain refused the consensus. A British diplomat told the General Assembly that the U.N. decolonization committee has an "outdated approach."
The Netherlands, United States and Germany said that the General Assembly should have taken account of the election in French Polynesia which kicked the independence party out of power.
"We are surprised" that the vote went ahead, said deputy U.S. ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis.
France also has the Pacific territory of New Caledonia on the U.N. decolonization list.
Britain has the Falklands, known as the Malvinas islands by the Spanish-speaking world, along with Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St Helena, Turks and Caicos islands and Pitcairn on the U.N. list.
Britain boycotts committee hearings on the Falklands, which Argentina uses to assert its sovereignty claim.
American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands come under U.S. jurisdiction.
New Zealand has Tokelau on the list while Western Sahara is disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front.