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Indonesia is dividing Melanesia over West Papua


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. 


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Busa Jeremiah Wenogo

It is fair to say that, whilst PNG is copping much of the blame for not progressing West Papua's push for independence, it is also equally important for the greater Melanesia (Vanuatu, Solomon Islands & Fiji) to unite in solidarity for this course.

This could be more effective if, as members of the MSG, they agree to support West Papua's course by taking certain measures unilaterally.

One of them could involve having the "West Papua" agenda included in all their bilateral talks/trade with Indonesia.

Then as a unfied body MSG could petition the Pacific Islands Forum (including New Zealand and Australia) to recognise the plight of the West Papuan people.

Once it is agreed, the Forum could adopt the similar strategy to include "West Papua" in its bilateral talks/trade.

Down the line it can then petition the UN to take action to address the issue of West Papua's independence.

If Melanesia is not united the best PNG could do, given its proximity to Indonesia and its obvious weaknesses, is only to resort to a "safe game" for security reasons.

Corney Korokan Alone

Dr Clement Waine, something that was never an integer (whole) before the 1960's cannot and must never be espoused and paraded as such.

Indonesia may have been classed into an emerging country by some economic bulletins, but the entire world doesn't view her with that lens.

West Papuans are blood, bile and butt Melanesians in every sense of the word and so freedom and self-determination is worth our support.

Dr Clement Waine

West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia and will remain that way until internal dynamics within Indonesia change. PNG must recast its relations with Indonesia in a new light, given that country's emergence in the new global order.
understanding the emerging situations in Indonesia and the issue of West Papua becomes tractable.

Chris Overland

As previously discussed on PNG Attitude, the supposed act of self determination by West Papua, whereby it became part of Indonesia, was a travesty, merely providing Indonesia with a seemingly legal means of seizing the country.

Melanesia collectively clearly lacks the means to dislodge the Indonesian occupiers by force, even assuming this was thought to be an intelligent plan.

Its best hope lies in presenting a united front to the rest of the world, demanding a genuine act of self determination for West Papua, under the auspices of the United Nations.

Many countries, including Australia, would be able to support such a position and exert diplomatic pressure on Indonesia to allow such a plebiscite.

Indonesia knows this and is using both rupiah diplomacy and unspoken threats to reinforce its position.

Consequently, now is the time for clarity of purpose on this issue amongst Melanesian countries.

Instead, we see prevarication and back flipping: these are all signs of the current weakness and, perhaps, indifference of Greater Melanesia towards the fate of West Papua.

The former colonial powers like Britain, Australia and the Netherlands cannot lead the task of liberating West Papua: their history effectively precludes this.

However, they can be recruited to the cause as allies provided it is led by Melanesian countries.

To my way of thinking it should be to the USA and China that Melanesia turns its attention on this issue.

Both powers potentially have reasons to support the cause, based upon both history and their search for political and economic influence in the broader Pacific region.

What is certain is that it will take some exceedingly deft diplomacy to create the conditions under which West Papua is to have any chance to seize control of its own destiny.

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

You are right, Busa Wenogo. Indonesia knows the weaknesses of MSG and Pacific island countries. It knows most of them are weak and fragile.

Did you notice the front page photograph in The National newspaper of our prime minister and the Indonesian president raising their glasses in a toast on Monday 11 May?

President Widodo's glass was raised higher than Peter O'Neill's. Some of us in Wabag discussed that.

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