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PNG too close to ignore, but what to do?

China: unquestioning obedience or mutual respect?

ImageCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - Corney Alone raised a number of important and hideously complex issues in yesterday’s article, ‘Warning to Oz: Don’t underestimate PNG’.

Australia's policy towards West Papua is not genocidal although, shamefully, Australia - along with Britain, the Netherlands and the USA - capitulated to Indonesia's territorial demands in the 1960s when they should have supported a genuine act of self-determination.

The reason? Indonesia was virulently anti-communist and according to the Cold War calculus of that era thus warranted our uncritical support lest it be driven into the arms of the commies.

Now, so many years after that event, our shameful acquiescence to Indonesian colonialism has placed us in the exquisitely painful position of having to support Indonesian sovereignty while all the while knowing that it is based upon possession by conquest.

Also, Australia has for far too long undoubtedly neglected its Pacific neighbours and tended to regard them with a patronising gaze.

This was a mistake indeed and one that the current government is left scrambling to correct.

The endemic racism that simmers away in the USA has been evident, to all of us who bother to look, for my entire lifetime and beyond.

Quite how this is to be addressed is hard to fathom because, so far at least, the US political system has proved incapable of redesigning itself to finally and irrevocably legislate away the various underhand means by which racism continues to be sustained.

Even assuming Joe Biden makes it to the White House, which today looks highly likely, I see no evidence of any capacity in him or the wider Democratic Party to do anything meaningful.

Of course, if Trump is re-elected it will be business as usual with no prospect of meaningful change.

Contrary to Corney's assertion, Australia has made no miscalculation in recognising the true nature of the Chinese government (as distinct from the Chinese people).

They are showing themselves to be worthy successors to the ancient imperial regimes, each of which demanded unquestioning obedience from their vassal states and rulers.

The Chinese Emperor signed off his letters with the admonition to "fear me and tremblingly obey".

Xi Jinping doesn't do this overtly, but his actions in relation to matters like trade show that this is still the Chinese government's position.

Corney and other Melanesian patriots would do well to read up on the history of China and recalibrate their expectations about how relations with this emerging major power should be managed.

Comments

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Robert Wilson

It is always interesting to hear different points of view and Corney argues clearly that the fault lies with the west! However, whilst I do agree with some of his points, I think really counts now is the future and serious thought as to where the pacific islands are now heading especially if they are signing up the the CCP belts and roads initiatives but also addressing their own governments actions (corruption) which especially in PNG's case, are not looking out for their own people whose living standards have steadily declined over the past 25+ years..
If the Pacific countries want to accept the benevolence offered by Xi as a result of the deemed oppression and perceived (probably true) rapacious behaviour of the west then all I can say is good luck with that!

Lindsay F Bond

Empathy might arise for sundry earlier hard-pressed folk, Chinese too.

Was not competition a component of relating at 19th Century goldfields?

"...Chinese miners often worked in organised groups of 30 to 100 men under the direction of a leader, which resulted in their gold digging efforts being very successful."

See: https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/chinese-goldfields

Australia's 1901 Immigration Restriction Act cemented earlier colonial stance (anti-Chinese) that prevailed in statute some seventy years. Perhaps that sentiment lingers yet as structure under other garb.

Recall however that when European governments were claiming territories for profit, plunder and prestige, folk in the now PNG (and perhaps all of Melanesian origin) had territorial imperatives and purposes, only with numerically less resources.

In Oro Province a resource emerged by way of government payment for land at Spear Point, and for which PNG contestants were obliged to have the matter resolved in a Court.

Forthright presentation of belief and sentiment is commendable as attainment. Yet as a tool and potentially a weapon, the aim, accuracy and actual verity will be assessed for more than initial effect.

For converse among folk of 2020 for whom "equity and sustainability" are the supposed norm and yet the challenge, was that word "imperialist" (toned down and subterfuged) meant to be read 'imperious'?

Chris Overland

It is clear that Corney and I substantially agree on the facts but not upon their interpretation and meaning. This is, of course, so very 2020 of us.

The only thing we can all be certain about is that the tectonic plates of geo-politics are shifting rapidly. Where they end up is anyone's guess right now but history suggests that no good will come of it, in the short term at least.

In relation to John Greenfield's comments, it is a pleasure to hear a new voice on PNG Attitude.

New knowledge and perspectives should always be welcomed as we all struggle to understand how PNG will grow and develop and what its future place in the world might be.

John Greenshields

Corney and Chris have given us a lot to digest.

In 1975 I went from PNG where we were working, to Irian Jaya and Indonesia. Nothing prepared us for the scene in Jayapura. The Melanesians were serfs in their own country.

We stayed in a nearby village, which had been the subject of recent transmigrasi, the placement of a Sulawesi house and family in the gap between each Melanesian’s house.

Our hosts were clearly frightened, but welcomed having outsiders to share their story. The only place they would talk was on a long canoe, out on a lake. Their relatives were refugees in Moresby.

We compared this with the mood of optimism and safety in TPNG as it approached Independence. Australia was doing a good job, in spite of the unnecessary rush to de-colonize, thanks to pressure from the UN and Whitlam.

Sadly, the structures and honesty soon went, and corrupt politicians and public servants helped themselves, rather than their people. PNG still lives with this legacy, which is reducing the country to a broke, failed state.

Australian budget support is trying to keep this country functioning, for the PNG people, not for its own capitalist interests. PNG has no better friend than Australia.

Australia could best help PNG by a 20-40 year program of agency support, in critical areas like Health, Education, Works, Electrification etc - a real Pacific step-up, Mr Morrison, not just a military one.

West Papua should be to Australia’s great shame, but few people know of it, due to the TNI’s almost total repression of news and movement. Australia and the US will do nothing to upset the security of the region, which depends on Indonesia.

The West Papuans may achive some freedom, but the sacrifices are likely to make East Timor look like a minor skirmish. Either that, or the Melanesians will have to accommodate the transmigrasi in some form into a new nation.

The young generation, and social media are ensuring that their plight is being heard by the world. Benny Wenda has raised West Papua in the UK parliament.

The MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group] and the Pacific Islands Forum are central to raising this issue to the UN, which Indonesia is attempting to subvert. It is only Melanesians who can make their case for Independence.

The recent behaviour of China is a puzzle. For forty years this country has benefited from commerce, and done well for its people. Recently, the CCP have invested vast capital in military materiel, armed forces and surveillance.

This has turned a once benign and peaceful region [the SW Pacific], into a conflict zone. Why? China’s actions have unnerved SE Asian and Pacific nations, and made enemies in the neighbourhood, where once they were considered benign.

Their land reclamation of South China Sea reefs was not going to be militarised they said. They lied. At that time, Obama should have discreetly warned them off, but he didn’t.

Failing quiet diplomacy, he should have sent on the US Navy to restore the status quo that has blessed the region with peace since WW2. He didn’t, being a weak President, and the Chinese CCP have been emboldened.

We are now having to deal with a bully who does not tolerate discussion or dissent. Some believe that China will ultimately fail. It will become old before it becomes rich. It will be like Russia without the resources.

As the world wakes up to its totalitarian behaviour, countries and corporations are distancing from China. Melanesians are rightly wary, as are Australians. Freedom is taken for granted, until you lose it.

Corney Korokan Alone

So this is a "putting up hands moment for the gang" who instituted the New York Agreement regarding West Papua?

Were we ever counselled to be honest to own up, tell the truth and fix any mess we create in kindergarten? Why does it always have to be a "do as I say and not and I do" for the "others".

Does Australia and USA think we are that naïve to subscribe to the re-phrased Indo-Pacific mantra as opposed to what has always been Asia Pacific setting or dialogue?

Regarding British adventurism in China, the Great Britain and the East India Trading company did not want to invade their largest Opium customer. That's a fact. They wanted to essentially enslave the population via drug addiction and reap the profits.

So the Brits did successfully set back China as a nation for nearly 100 years due to the drug trade. That was a lesson learned there. I believe China will not ever forget.

The stealing of so-called trade secrets is a flat-out fallacy. American capitalists choose to relocate to China in exchange for the cheap labor. Things do rub off when business deals are made.

If the 1884 Berlin Conference succeeded in slicing and dicing up the African continent (sometimes with the same linguistic groupings ending up as different countries/extraction yards) for different European powers, then one can never rule out the colonializations attempts on China.

North America is a landmark of almost similar size as China that didn't escape colonialization pursuits by European powers.

Melanesia is in an open ocean. Fearless seafarers and hunters live here. We chose not be easily duped into hanging onto a 400 plus year lie.

Chris Overland

In his comments Corney has made some valid points, but the general tenor of his remarks is to demonise “the west” and succumb to the “halo effect” when looking at China.

In relation to Corney's comments on West Papua I strongly agree with his remarks that many indigenous Melanesians have been the subject of systemic and systematic repression by Indonesian authorities as that country has endeavoured to establish its authority as an occupying power.

That said, it is very hard to see how West Papua can ever become an independent country unless and until the indigenous West Papuans reach some sort of arrangement with the around one million plus Indonesians, mainly from Java and Sulawesi, who have migrated there at the urging of their government.

Such a large group of people will not willingly retreat to their former homes and, in many cases, have no capacity to do so.

Consequently, they have to become a part of any new nation formed were Indonesia to acquiesce to the creation of an independent West Papuan state.

For this reason alone, neither Australia nor any other power is likely to agitate for the creation of a new nation state formed upon the basis that only the indigenous Melanesian population can be legitimate citizens of that state.

There thus will be no repeat of Australia’s role in the creation of Timor L’Este which was itself only possible with the consent of Indonesia and, very importantly, the support of the United States.

With respect to China’s effective subjugation during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Corney is wrong to suppose that Britain and the other colonial European powers had any real interest in imposing their control upon the whole of China.

The country was simply too big to make that a realistic possibility. More importantly, no power was willing to bear the cost involved, not to mention the hostility of the other powers competing for trade with the Chinese.

It was sufficient for their collective purposes to exert enough influence to allow trade to flow unimpeded.

It is important to understand that China’s rise is following the predictable historic trajectory of emergent great powers, as previously seen in the case of both the United States and Japan.

In each case, a huge national effort was devoted to, first, creating a modern economy through the acquisition of knowledge, expertise and technology; second, consolidating and centralising state power in the hands of a governing elite and, third, creating a powerful military infrastructure through which to project power beyond the physical borders of the state.

In the case of the rise of the USA, the existing European imperial powers were supplanted as a consequence of two disastrous world wars and, in the case of the USSR, through its ideological and economic collapse.

Japan rose to prominence as a proto great power during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, collapsed following its defeat in World War II and then rose from the proverbial ashes once more thanks to both its own efforts and, in part at least, to the active support of the USA.

In a similar way China has reinvented itself as a modern power by begging, borrowing or stealing the knowledge, expertise and technology needed to achieve great power status.

It has been mightily aided in the process by the neo-liberal inspired globalisation of the last 40 years or so, driven mainly by the USA and Western Europe.

In a post Covid 19 world (if there is one) globalisation is likely to take a rather different form, with the USA and Europe now grappling with the logical socio-economic consequences of having effectively exported large parts of their manufacturing and other industries to the developing world, notably China.

Like the rest of us, Papua New Guineans are going to have to learn to live in this very different world.

While Corney is right to say that “the west’ has much to answer for in relation to its imperial past, it is a dangerous fallacy to assume that China is an inherently benign or altruistic power. Nothing in its long history supports this idea.

In fact, history points towards the emergence of yet another instinctively authoritarian power with quasi-imperialist ambitions.

Recent actions by China in relation to the South China Sea as well as its response to Australia’s not necessarily wise foreign policy manoeuvring clearly underline this point.

So, Corney, do not look to China for selfless and altruistic support for Melanesian interests. You are doomed to disappointment if you do.

Better by far for Melanesians to form their own coalition of small powers and try to forge a collective path through what promises to be, as the Australian prime minister has rightly described it, a more unstable, poorer and more dangerous world in the 21st century.

Corney Korokan Alone

Papua New Guineans and their Melanesian family will have to look at what that 400 years have delivered and that country on the shining hill’s proclivities towards humanity's equity and justice. We need no reminder to conclude that it has been a farce.

Melanesians have a fresh history of 54 years of exploitation, plunder, theft and the grand depopulation that is happening through transmigration in East New Guinea.


Do we want to wait for another, say, 350 years, hoping that the West will come to its senses and do something completely different?

That’s a good discussion to have given the continuous murder of black and brown lives in this 21st century.

Learned Melanesians are very much aware of how easily Great Britain conquered and colonised India but not so for China, despite their attempts.

China was a unified empire which could have mobilised a large army against any invasion force, therefore Great Britain went after easy pickings, although the opium wars tested that invincibility notion (without success).

Melanesians are also mindful of the motivations of Great Britain’s conquest – an “exclusive or captured market zone and a source for free and easy raw materials”.

This 'market and raw materials' thinking has shifted, therefore, it would be futile for us to be fixated on a crumbling empire to secure ourselves an equitable future where our descendants will be subjected to hundreds of years on end.

Note further that Melanesians are not oblivious to the scourge of “concentrated capital markets” and what has been an “exclusive club for credit worthiness” where the “melanin people of the world are tagged as beggars and a burden for the developed Western world”.

That nonsense is facing a stress test and we are very aware of how it will try to salvage itself in these shifting dynamics.

So warfare economics (bereft of conscience) is what the socially connected and the borderless 21st century citizens will not tolerate and be subjected to for another century.

Melanesians are also aware of the flourishing English language centres in China where mostly Western tutors are making a fortune living in that forbidden land.

The policy makers in China are not ignoring that but allowing that to happen “at their own rate of conversion”.

They are also assessing who the real manipulators are and where their possible safe havens are for raw materials extraction and development centered cooperation.

We are also watching closely how the “debt forgiveness leverage” is being played by the West and slowly followed suit by China.

This is a new game China is getting used to whereas, the West has been capitalising on it for ages with incalculable damage and suppression in the economies of these aptly labelled “leased developing countries”.

So whilst we appreciate the handholding inclinations of our imperialist masters, we know for a fact that, this is the 21st century and we can stand on our own and be taken seriously at the negotiating table, be it with the West or the East.

The underworld of the East’s amplified repression schemes that the West supposedly feels she was gifted by God are nothing to fear and be intimidated by in this digitally connected world.

Welcome to the 21st century world of tolerance where equity and sustainability is the name game in town.

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