An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
SINCE the decision by Peter O’Neill to support Indonesia’s bid for associate membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) there has been wide criticism of PNG for neglecting West Papua in favour of Indonesia.
Like many Papua New Guineans who believe in freedom, peace, unity and justice I view this decision with great concern.
This deal with Indonesia does not give prominence to the West Papua cause. Instead it only works in favour of Indonesia to thwart any complaints that might arise within MSG countries regarding its inhumane treatment of West Papuans.
In the true spirit of the game of diplomacy, O'Neill should have used West Papua's membership bid as a "catch" for Indonesia's bid. That is, to say to Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo that, if you want to be an associate member of MSG, Indonesia must support West Papua's bid for membership. Otherwise forget about getting PNG's support.
A proposal like this would no doubt be difficult for Jokowi to swallow.
Taking this approach would also give a clear indication that PNG is serious about addressing the plight of her Melanesian brothers and sisters.
I agree with Governor Gary Juffa that MSG should be disbanded altogether as it has lost its "meaning" and "true intention".
However, that decision will become clearer only when the MSG sits down later this year to deliberate on West Papua’s application for membership.
That meeting will test the resilience and relevance of MSG given that the other Melanesian countries are divided on the issue.
Nevertheless, the decision by PNG, being the largest country to side with Indonesia, is in a sense a huge blow to the bid by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
Furthermore, recent infighting and competitiveness among MSG member countries indicates that it will be very difficult to achieve unity and solidarity to pursue issues of common interest like West Papua.
For instance, Fiji, through its proposed Pacific Island Development Forum, has already invited Indonesia to support its cause although it knows only too well what Indonesia is doing to the West Papuans.
In fact Fiji has already extended an invitation to Indonesia to attend the 3rd Pacific Island Development Forum Summit to be held sometime in August.
Frank Bainimarama's continued disgust over New Zealand and Australia's influence over the Pacific through the rival Pacific Islands Forum will continue to push Fiji into the arms of the Indonesians and the rest of the countries north of it.
That leaves Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and (maybe) PNG as genuine supporters of the West Papua bid for MSG membership. Of these three countries, Vanuatu has the loudest voice and Solomon Islands Foreign Minister earlier this year was reported to have said that his country supports "West Papua's right to self-determination". Whether that will translate into action during the MSG meeting remains to be seen.
Earlier this year O’Neill was of a similar view when he made a bold statement "to do more to speak out for Melanesians” in Indonesia's West Papua, yet what transpired this week far from lived up to that pledge.
For the sake of West Papuans it is hoped that Solomon Islands and Vanuatu do not follow suit.
Since its establishment, MSG has not issued any formal complaint to the United Nations or other international body over Indonesia's inhumane treatment of West Papuans. What is the guarantee that, with Indonesia in the mix, it will do so?
Indonesia knows the weaknesses of MSG and Pacific Island countries in general. It knows most of them are weak and fragile economies and it will woo them to support its agenda through "rupiah diplomacy".
Melanesians must bear in mind that Indonesia has been on the warpath in West Papua where Ertsberg mine is a jewel in the crown for Indonesia.
This has come at huge cost to West Papuans who are the rightful traditional owners of the mine. Indonesia has been relentless in her pursuit to keep Ertsberg spilling millions of rupiah into its coffers.
West Papua’s population is now half what it is used to be and there is increased momentum to reduce it further. Historically and ethnically, Papua New Guineans shares a similar ancestry with West Papuans. Therefore, what is the guarantee that Indonesia does not also view us with an eye to deceive?
PNG, the largest Melanesian nation in the world, has a duty to protect all Melanesians. When Melanesians are at the brink of becoming victims of a genocide orchestrated by a regime that cares very little about human dignity and rights, PNG needs to be called into action.
It is fundamentally our moral obligation to protect what is culturally unique and that gives us our identity. Most importantly, in a world where efforts are being made to get rid of all forms of violence and discrimination, PNG has every right to demand that the Indonesian government, Australia, the US and the UN stop these atrocities.
So the battle lines are being drawn for what will be the most anticipated MSG meeting since its establishment.
We must hope that, during this meeting, the spirit of Melanesia comes to the fore.
What is now needed to address the issue of West Papua is a United Melanesia, unified in our resolve to stand up for what is morally and ethically right. Otherwise, there is no point in us raising the flag of Melanesia.