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Indonesia & the Pacific Islands: Definitely not yet ‘one family’

PNG foreign minister Rimbink Pato and Indonesian foreign minister Retno LP Marsudi
PNG foreign minister Rimbink Pato and Indonesian foreign minister Retno LP Marsudi - really one family?


GOLD COAST - On Thursday 21 March, The Jakarta Post published an opinion article by Indonesian foreign Retno LP Marsudi that highlighted a plan for diplomatic engagement with Pacific island countries.

According to the article, Indonesians and the people of the Pacific belong to “one family” and call the Pacific Ocean “our home.”

Marsudi emphasised the importance of developing physical connections and enhancing the connectivity of “hearts and minds” and said cooperation is needed to develop the South Pacific and define the future for the next generation.

‘Family’ and ‘home’ are powerful words that represent a place where human dignity and quality are nurtured and valued: this should be a priority for the future generations of the Pacific families. Strong communities are built upon such intrinsic human values.

These words have special value for the people of the Pacific and it is of concern that the minister used these words as a vehicle for political strategy to sustain Indonesia’s influence over other countries.

Connecting people beyond cultural biases and hostility and recognising humanity as ‘one family’ is an urgent need for the people in order to set the precedent for the future of the relationship between Indonesia and Pacific Islands.

Indonesia is not willing to address the fact that, since the nation came into existence after World War II, it has behaved dishonourably and disgracefully especially towards the people of West Papua and East Timor.

It is estimated that more than 500,000 indigenous people of West Papua have died at the hands of Indonesian security forces. Indonesia’s actions have fostered distrust, fear and trauma in the hearts and minds of communities across the Pacific islands.

Minister Marsudi, is this how you treat family? Why does Indonesia continue to traumatise and kill the innocent, unarmed Papuan people that belong to the Pacific Ocean “family”?

At the United Nation General Assembly in September 2016, seven Pacific leaders publicly condemned Indonesia’s brutal treatment of Papuans and advocated West Papua’s right for independence.

The leaders were attempting to send a clear message to Indonesia that the people of the Pacific were not happy and were mourning over the pain and death inflicted on their fellow Melanesians.

The Pacific people also recognised the plight of Papuans by allowing the United Liberation for West Papua (ULMWP) to become an observer in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. To demonstrate further support, the leaders of ULMWP were also invited to attend the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) meeting in 2018.

The unwavering commitment of the Vanuatu government and its people to impede Indonesia’s attempts to annihilate their fellow Melanesian Papuans cannot be underestimated.

This growing support of the Pacific Island communities and civil solidarity groups indicate that the people of Oceania are sincerely concerned about the fate of the West Papuan people.

The best way to demonstrate this “family connection” would be by treating West Papuans with dignity and respect and giving them the right to be free in their ancestral land.

Any dialogue of human activity that deviates from this is a violation of fundamental human rights. West Papua is the pebble in Indonesia’s shoe.

Indonesia has a paternalistic outlook on the Pacific - it wants to “develop” the island communities and this developmental mentality is problematic.

Why do industrial countries and Indonesia always try to develop Pacific islanders? It is an imperialistic view of civilisation. Indonesia would have the Pacific islands stripped of their heritage, culture and everything that makes them unique and beautiful communities.

Pacific and first nation people around the globe have learned that much of the destruction of their languages, cultures, sacred lands, forests and islands are being committed in the name of “development, progress and civilisation”.

These three words have inflicted more damage on the Papuan people than Indonesian bullets. The question always presents itself: development for whom and for what purpose?

Since the 1960s, Indonesia has been trying to redesign Papua through numerous developmental programs supported by heavily armed military and police. Indonesia built a system in West Papua not to protect the diversity of languages and cultures, but to demonize them and force change upon them.

This is an evil colonial system, intentionally built to annihilate the peaceful people who wish to exist freely in their own home. They want to break down and rebuild these peaceful communities - change their languages and stories, rewrite their history and dictate their future.

If there is any sincerity in the words expressed by Minister Marsudi about Pacific islanders belonging to one family with Indonesians, then Indonesia needs to exemplify this promise through its actions.

First of all, the Minister should consider re-educating Indonesian leaders in Jakarta that Papuans are not primitive people and do not need to be “developed”. They are human beings who have survived for thousands of years with their own sophisticated system of culture, communication and knowledge. 

Building connectivity from hearts and minds must begin by recognising that because one has the means of brute force doesn’t mean one is more evolved than the people being oppressed.

In fact, extreme global threats such as climate change and terrorism are mostly undertaken by so called ‘civilised’ humans of the first-world countries.

Many Pacific islands are sinking into the rising ocean due to climate catastrophes caused by projects of modernity, progress and industrialisation led by the first-world countries - not because of the lack of development of these islands.

The most humane thing Indonesia could do for the people of the Pacific is to stop the unending oppression and slaughter of the Papuans to restore their human dignity and freedom.

Stop trying to fool these communities with empty and dishonest words such as the ones expressed by Foreign Minister Marsudi.

Indonesia cannot go to countries in Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia and the Aboriginal people of Australia and say “we are one family, Oceania is our home, we are one culture” while simultaneously annihilating the indigenous cultures that they are supposed to protect.

All the noble diplomatic ideas expressed by the Foreign Minister such as building a connection with the Pacific Islands cannot be realised while terrorizing people and striking fear and distrust into their hearts.

The brutal and inhumane images of Papuan agony at the hands of the Indonesian colonial rule have created a distasteful public perception of Indonesia. It is unlikely that Pacific communities will accept Indonesia as a harmless and nurturing member of the “family”.

These images cannot be forgotten through bribing people with trinkets or by blocking West Papua from international media attention.

Restoring the relationship between the nations will require a fundamental shift of understanding from hearts to minds on the part of Indonesia.


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