Why Papua Won’t Separate from Indonesia and Why It Will

Editorial Omong-Omong

3 min read

As the world’s economy and politics are changing rapidly since 1969 when a self-determination vote administered by the United Nations decided that Papua was part of Indonesia, more frequent questions on Indonesia’s treatment of Papua and Papuans have been voiced in many more events, especially during the annual Unite Nation General Assembly meeting where most of world’s leaders gather and talk.

The questions of Indonesia’s human right record in Papua is not coming from Vanuatu alone.  Not less than UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres himself has singled out rampant human rights violations in Papua by the Indonesian military.

The pressure will continue to mount against Indonesia leading to condition similar to a situation when East Timor and Aceh sought independence from Indonesia. East Timor ultimately achieved its independence while Aceh maintained itself within Indonesia but gaining as biggest autonomy as a region of state could have.

What factors that will keep Papua from gaining independence from Indonesia? And why will it gain its freedom?

Why Papua Will and Won’t Remain with Indonesia

First, if Indonesia fundamentally and drastically change its policies in Papua then there is big chance that the condition in Papua will get much better, and pressure for independence will be lessened. Jakarta, first and foremost, must gradually reduce its military force in Papua to the level similar to other provinces. Instead, Jakarta must send to Papua more experts in social sciences, such as sociologists, anthropologists, experts in culture, filmmakers, writers, novelists, teachers and economists in an attempt to get a clearer picture of what Papuans need most. Accordingly, these civilian intellectuals will propose more human policies for Papua that in turn will help empower Papuans, and make their lives better.

With the military’s presence lessened and more civilian intellectuals on the ground, the chance of military conducting human rights violations as presently accused can also be reduced. The civilians in Papua don’t have to be afraid of attacks by separatist groups because if these groups mount attacks on civilians then they will be the bad guy in the eyes of international community, and their credibility to demand independence will be destroyed.

If there is no drastic change in policies for Papua and Papuans, then Jakarta can’t see a lessening pressure from international communities on the way it treats Papuans. Indonesia can’t expect to get different results from its conduct in Papua while using the same tool, method and policies over and over again.

All diplomacies conducted by the country’s most brilliant diplomats won’t matter. Diplomacy can only take you so far. Diplomacy is only a make-up. It doesn’t matter if your face is ugly. Without real change in Papua, any diplomacy is just hollow conduct and empty promises.

The longer Indonesia maintains this status quo the harder for it to make a breakthrough, and the harder will be the international pressure, leading to a situation where it will be forced to give Papua their freedom.

Second, Indonesia must stop illegal and inhumane exploitation of Papua’s land, forest and seas. Big companies have gained concessions and permits to exploit Papua without planning to give benefits to Papua and even to Indonesia in general. So far, those who benefit most from these exploitations are not Papuan people but a group of elites in in Jayapura, Merauke and Jakarta. The center of the problem is of course corrupt officials both in Jakarta and Papua.

Environmental destruction and corruption among officials and elites in Papua have been exposed to the world, tarnishing Indonesia’s reputation while many have begun to suspect that Indonesia has ill intention towards Papuans by drying the region’s natural resources without considering long-term need of Papuans to survive.

Stopping exploitation of Papua’s natural resources and environmental damages will send strong signal to International communities that Indonesia is serious maintaining Papua as its territory. However, failing to do so will negatively affect international support for Indonesia on Papua.

Third, Indonesia must gradually open international access to Papua to erase suspicion that Indonesia is hiding bad conducts and is afraid that international inspection will reveal its inhumane conduct against Papuans all these years. All these years it is very difficult for civils society groups and journalists and even for tourists to visit and explore Papua.

So, Jakarta must open up and allow people to come to Papua just like any other provinces. In the past few years the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ONHCR) repeatedly requested access, and Jakarta has reportedly broadly agreed, however a visit is yet to materialize.

The logic is if Indonesia has nothing to hide then why afraid to let people in?

Fourth, not less important are external and geopolitics factors. While Vanuatu and other small Pacific countries can attack Indonesia anytime they want, it won’t come near to create a situation that allows Papua to be independent. It will be a totally different game when the US and Australia and other major countries start to voice their objection against Indonesia’s conduct in Papua. If Indonesia can satisfy Papuans, while maintaining peace and order in its eastern most province then there is nothing any major powers can do to spark discussion of Papua’s independence.

But in this current situation, what the US, Australia and European Union would say will matter. And what they will say will depend on their interests. The biggest interests of the US and Australia will be to contest China’s rising influence in Southeast Asia.

Thus, the US will have trump card in Papua. It can force Indonesia to support whatever policies it will do in the region.

With Papua being a hostage Indonesia has very few options in its foreign policy in dealing with US-China rivalry. When it matters most Indonesia will ultimately take side with the US regardless of how much money China pours into the Archipelago. But this means that Indonesia has lost its freedom as an independent nation.

Editorial Omong-Omong

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