Former PM Sir Mekere blasts ‘lavish staging’ and ‘ridicule’ of APEC

NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters announces a K22 million (NZ$10 million) aid project to help polio vaccination for Papua New Guineans at the St John Ambulance Operations Centre in Port Moresby. Video: EMTV News

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

A former prime minister has accused Papua New Guinea’s current leader Peter O’Neill of exposing the country to “international ridicule and criticism” over the lavish staging of APEC and failure of the meeting to make the customary Leaders’ Declaration for the first time in its history.

Sir Mekere Morauta, MP for Moresby North West in the nation’s capital, today declared in a statement: “APEC has revealed to the world the corruption, waste and mismanagement within the O’Neill government, and their devastating effects on the nation and citizens.”

He said the leaders summit had shone an international spotlight on O’Neill’s “crude and cynical attempts to play one nation against another”.

READ MORE: PNG security forces strike at Parliament for unpaid APEC allowances

Sir Mekere also accused the prime minister and lacking an ability to understand the nuances of international relations and the dramatic geopolitical changes happening in the region.

NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters at St John Ambulance Operations Centre in Port Moresby yesterday. Image: EMTV News

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“What should have been a moment for PNG to shine on the international stage instead descended into chaos, including embarrassing diplomatic incidents, international media allegations of financial and procedural impropriety and organisational disarray,” Sir Mekere said.

“Papua New Guinea’s international standing has been diminished.”

The former PM said the issue for Papua New Guinea was not a failure of the international APEC organisation, the countries involved, or of PNG’s professional diplomats – it was an issue of failed leadership.

Quality of life
Sir Mekere said PNG should not have hosted APEC in the first place.

The K3 billion “lavished” on the event should have been spent on improving the quality of life of ordinary Papua New Guineans.

“Instead we have preventable diseases such as polio, leprosy, TB and malaria surging and people dying – 21 children are now known to have contracted polio,” Sir Mekere said.

“Many schools are closing across the nation. Public servants are not being paid properly and other entitlements such as superannuation payments are being withheld.

“Essential infrastructure outside Port Moresby is crumbling into the dust, and government systems and processes are failing by the day.”

However, Prime Minister O’Neill said he had made history in inviting Pacific Island leaders to take part in the APEC leaders summit, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

“I know Australia, New Zealand and PNG are active members of APEC, but there are also countries within the Pacific region that have their own story to tell,” O’Neill said.

Reception dinner
He said this when he led the Pacific leaders to a reception dinner hosted by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Australian High Commission residence last night.

Pacific leaders who attended included Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and the Prime Ministers of the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

“I would like to thank the Pacific leaders for joining us here at the margins of the APEC meeting.

“Again [the reason] to bring the Pacific Island leaders’ to APEC is that we don’t want to be forgotten out of the APEC community,” O’Neill said.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Chinese President Xi’s early PNG arrival upstages APEC rivals

News headlines with the arrival of the Chinese president in Papua New Guinea for APEC. Video: EMTV News

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Port Moresby last night to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit and is poised to steal a march on rival world leaders.

With the US and Russian Presidents skipping the event, President Xi is in a strategic position to strengthen ties with both the host nation and other attendees.

The National reports that President Xi said PNG was “truly a land of promise,” endowed with abundant natural resources.

READ MORE: ‘Like nothing on earth’ – APEC’s cruise ship summit

“In recent years, thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, the great work of the government, and the industrious and enterprising people of the country, PNG has thrived in national development, and its society has taken on a new look,” said President Xi.

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Mutual trust
This is the first state visit of President Xi where he reiterated his goal to fortify “mutual trust” and to take bilateral ties to next level.

“I look forward to working with your leaders to cement mutual trust, expand practical cooperation, and increase people-to-people exchanges in order to take our bilateral ties to a new level,” said President Xi.

EMTV Online reports that President Xi officiate at the opening  of a new school today for PNG students, Butuka Academy.

“Only one of China’s many gifts to PNG,” he said.

President Xi said the rapid growth of the China-PNG relations was “an epitome of China’s overall relations with Pacific Islands countries”.

“The Chinese often say: ‘Distance cannot separate true friends who remain close even when thousands of miles apart.’ The vast Pacific Ocean is indeed a bond between China and Pacific Islands countries,” said President Xi.

President Xi said China would stand firm with Pacific Islands countries and all other developing countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at Port Moresby’s Jacksons International Airport last night for a state visit and the APEC summit. Image: Loop PNG

Brighter future
“The relations between China and Pacific Islands countries are now better than ever and face important opportunities of development,” he said.

“China will work with Pacific Islands countries to brave the wind and waves and set sail for a brighter future of our relations.”

The Post-Courier reports that early this year, President Xi met with Prime Minister O’Neill in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing as part of a trip that saw the Pacific nation signing on to the “One Belt One Road” initiative.

This was an initiative seen by the US as a threat, and it had injected US$113 million in Asian investment.

Prime Minister O’Neill, in this meeting with President Xi, said he wanted more cooperation on economy, trade, investment, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.

After the APEC summit in PNG, President Xi is set to visit Brunei and the Philippines where he will engage in an in-depth conversation with the two head of the state strengthening bilateral ties.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Barbara Dreaver: Mana counts … NZ needs the Pacific as much as the Pacific needs NZ

A song called “Jacinda New Star in the Sky” clearly delighted NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru last week: “Underestimating personal relationships in the Pacific is sheer ignorance.” Image: Screen shot from TVNZ video

OPINION: By Barbara Dreaver, 1 News Pacific Correspondent

Now that the phosphate dust has settled and the shameless self-promoting headlines about the Pacific being “leeches” and a waste of time and money have lost their hysterical edge – let’s take a look at some facts.

Jacinda Ardern serenaded with song written especially for her and Neve on arrival to Nauru
The song called Jacinda New Star in the Sky clearly delighted the Prime Minister. Source: 1 NEWS

Firstly to deal with the issue of “da plane, da plane” – it seems only appropriate here to bring in Tattoo from Fantasy Island for those old enough to remember this dubious 80s TV progamme.

Yes, it cost money to send up an extra plane to Nauru to make it possible for our Prime Minister to get there.

That is true.

What is also true is there have been several, not just the one, but several multiflight trips organised by the former National government around the Pacific because some politicians across the political landscape found it uncomfortable to travel on the C130 Hercules the whole way.

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It’s not unusual, so I’m not sure why this suddenly became a big issue.

Multitude of reasons
It was important for the Prime Minister of New Zealand to be in Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum for a multitude of reasons.

The geopolitical landscape in the Pacific has changed radically in the last couple of years.

Jacinda Ardern and Pacific leaders sport matching red threads during Nauru photo shoot
The Prime Minister is making a one-day appearance at the Pacific Island Forum. Source: 1 NEWS

At this Forum, Air Force 2 flew in a US delegation, a high profile Chinese delegation was there, other Asian countries, the European Union … all vying for influence.

From a geopolitical stance alone it’s crucial New Zealand is a player in this.

Just ask Australia, which is having kittens over the thought of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu giving port power to the Chinese. Then there are serious security issues.

South East Asia and a bigger push since 2016 from South American cartels are pushing drugs through the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand, fisheries are being depleted – these are all issues that affect New Zealand – why wouldn’t we be there?

Instability bad for NZ
Instability in the region is bad for New Zealand.

Bilaterals with Pacific leaders are equally important.

New Zealand wants island country votes at regional and world level – the UN Security Council, which we headed at one point is a case in point, the World Health Organisation and many more. Votes are gold and don’t think that New Zealand doesn’t want to tie up Pacific votes any less than the big players.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters could easily have done the job but he is not Prime Minister.

You can throw money around the region as much as you like but to underestimate personal relationships in the Pacific is sheer ignorance.

Mana is quite rightly attached to New Zealand’s leader being there and if Jacinda Ardern hadn’t shown up for her first Pacific Forum we would have been penalised for it down the line one way or another.

New Zealand cannot afford to tread with the same ignorance Australia does as it blunders through the region – incredulous that things are happening that they don’t like.

PM holds her own
To suggest that Jacinda Ardern is not tough enough is ridiculous. I’m told by people who know first-hand that she more than holds her own in a bi-lat and so she should – it’s the very least we would expect any of our Prime Ministers to do.

While the above is important there is also something else. A palagi friend who I really respect had the following to say and I couldn’t agree more.

“For me the importance of the Pacific is much more cultural – we are part of this place and Pacific Islanders are part of us.

“It’s who we collectively are. We give to each other and sustain each other with language, music, laughter. And in doing so we are all creating a unique culture that is different – the rest of the world can only wonder and admire us.”

As someone who has lived and worked in the region for nearly 30 years I have nothing but contempt for the sheer ignorance I have been reading from those whose idea of the Pacific is lying poolside at Denarau with a pina colada.

New Zealand needs the Pacific as much as the Pacific needs New Zealand. In fact some countries have made it clear they don’t need New Zealand at all.

The National government understood this – so does this government. Let’s move on.

This Barbara Dreaver Television New Zealand blog posting is republished with permission.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Canberra’s new PM Morrison has little foreign policy, Pacific interest

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not be at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week. He needs to rely heavily on the experience of his new Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, and deputy leader, Josh Frydenberg. Image: Andrew Taylor/The Conversation/AAP

By Susan Harris Rimmer in Brisbane

With all the focus this week on new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s domestic challenges, less attention has been paid to the international impact of the leadership change and any new directions for Australian foreign policy.

Morrison’s foreign policy credentials are slim and his interest in foreign policy is low, not rating even a mention in his first speech to the nation as PM.

As immigration minister, Morrison presided over the “stop the boats” policy that was so unpopular with Australia’s Asia-Pacific neighbours and negotiated the disastrous and expensive Cambodia asylum deal.

READ MORE: Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister

He may also be perceived by Muslim-majority nations as unfriendly to Muslims after the 2011 shadow cabinet leak that he urged his party to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about immigration and Muslims in Australia.

It is therefore a good idea indeed that Morrison will make his first trip overseas as prime minister this week to Jakarta to hasten the Australia and Indonesia free-trade agreement and shore up one of our country’s most crucial relationships.

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There are other big trips he’ll need to make quick decisions about. Morrison has already decided not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week, sending his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, instead.

After that, there’s the UN General Assembly in New York (September 24), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea (November 12), the East Asia Summit in Singapore (November 14) and the G20 summit in Buenos Aires (November 30).

An Australian PM would usually attend all of these, although the Coalition has often sent the foreign minister to the UN.

New leader, same outlook
In many ways, Morrison’s foreign policy positions are unlikely to be different from Malcolm Turnbull’s. He will likely be perceived as friendly to the US and unfriendly to China on foreign investment, but a realist and pro-free trade.

Morrison made a dramatic intervention in 2016 to block Chinese companies from bidding for the NSW electricity distributor, Ausgrid, on national security grounds.

As acting home affairs minister last week, Morrison also announced the government’s decision to effectively ban Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from participating in Australia’s new 5G mobile phone networks. In reality, though, the Turnbull reset on the China relationship is likely to continue, as guided by the Foreign Policy White Paper.

The leadership change was not predicated on policy disagreements, with the exception of different ideologies on climate change. The change was rather more personality-driven, a question of style. But style – and leaders – matter in diplomacy.

Many foreign policy experts have been distraught by the damage done to Australia’s international reputation by such disruptive spills, and how external messaging on good governance will be undermined.

The big loss here is Julie Bishop, who has been a point of stability and continuity for Australia’s international partners since 2009, when she became shadow foreign minister. The sudden, inexplicable loss of both Turnbull and Bishop will be hard for our allies (and most Australians) to understand.

Bishop will be remembered for her path-breaking role as the first female foreign minister and first female secretary of DFAT. Her legacy also includes the New Colombo Plan, her push for e-diplomacy and her passionate quest for justice for the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

She did face criticism – as did the Coalition more broadly – for the inability or unwillingness to defend the aid budget from deep cuts, an asylum seeker policy that affected our international reputation, and an unwillingness to speak out on human rights, such as against Myanmar’s leaders.

Morrison’s support team
Bishop’s loss is ameliorated by two factors – the appointment of Payne and the influence of Josh Frydenberg in the leadership team.

Frydenberg, the new deputy Liberal leader and treasurer, has a strong interest and inclination for foreign policy, having worked for former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. He was very active in the Brisbane G20 Summit in 2014. He is even a published author on the liberal tradition in Australian foreign policy.

Frydenberg’s maiden speech contained a particularly beautiful narrative about how his family suffered during the Holocaust in Europe and later emigrated to Australia.

Like so many other immigrants to our great shores, all of my grandparents came here with nothing. … The welcome my family received and the opportunities and freedom they enjoyed is for me the essence of what makes Australia great.

The G20 Summit in Argentina in November is the best opportunity for Morrison and Frydenberg to shine in the international sphere. Given his newly-elevated platform at the summit, Morrison may have to moderate his constant criticism of “the new romantics of protectionism” and dislike of the World Trade Organisation.

Morrison and Frydenberg should also pay heed to the difficult negotiations around the Australia-EU free-trade agreement.

Payne positive appointment
Payne’s appointment as foreign minister is also seen as a positive, as is Simon Birmingham’s elevation to trade minister. Both are hardworking, reasonable politicians from the moderate wing of the Liberal party who can manage stakeholders well. Hopefully, they will have time before the next election to bring their own style to the positions.

Mark Coulton remains assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment. He has yet to make much impact since being appointed in March, but has a welcome focus on Papua New Guinea, host of APEC.

Anne Ruston has been appointed assistant minister for international development and the Pacific. She has voted in the past against increases in foreign aid and has limited experience in the region.

She should follow the example of Richard Marles, who did exemplary work in this portfolio, garnering respect in the Pacific. This role could become more difficult with Morrison deciding not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum.

Morrison should rely on Payne and Birmingham to manage Australia’s foreign policy and pay special attention to rebuilding our reputation for good governance. There is hard work to be done, and little time to do it.

is Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University. Disclosure: She receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is affiliated as a national board member with the International Women’s Development Agency. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ex-Bougainville VP blasts Canberra’s ‘top down’ interference in referendum

Bougainville MP Joseph Watawi … “Australians attempting to hijack our political system.” Image: Twitter

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

A former Bougainville regional vice-president has condemned Australia for political interference over the independence referendum process, saying Canberra would be better served dumping their diplomatic and aid corps in favour of “a drunk rugby team”.

Bougainville is preparing for a referendum on independence to be held on June 15 next year.

Joseph Watawi, Bougainville Member for Selau and former vice-president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), Joseph Watawi has accused Canberra of “tokenistic efforts” and contrasted Australia with New Zealand’s “trusted and respected” role because of its cultural awareness.

Watawi is chair of Bougainville’s parliamentary select committee responsible for the referendum preparation, weapons disposal, peace and unification.

“Without consultation, the Australian government has sent ‘advisers’ to all of our political offices while making only tokenistic efforts to actually help the people here,” he said in a statement.

“Let us not be naive, Australian aid is not about helping people but about gaining political power and influence. The problem is that in Melanesian cultures the only way for outsiders like Australians to gain political power and influence is to actually start at the grassroots and help people and communities.”

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Watawi said the “top down approach” of the Australians in “attempting to hijack our political system merely confirms the suspicions of many Bougainville people that the Australian programme is one of spying and jockeying for position over our natural resources in the lead up to next year’s independence referendum”.

Real task
The real task facing the Australian government and their representativeness was to deal with Australia’s legacy issues.

“It was the Australian-owned mine at Panguna that started the Bougainville war that led to the deaths of at least 10,000 Bougainvilleans and it was Australian helicopters and pilots who contributed to that death toll [by] shooting people from the air and burning villages,” Watawi said.

“Australia [had] also contributed to the naval blockade of southern Bougainville, stopping essential food and medical supplies from reaching civilians in the conflict area.

“In the past 10 years we Bougainvilleans have put a lot of work into the reconciliation process among our various factions and language groups. Australia, as one of the key causes of the war, has been noticeably absent from this process.

“If you go to the Panguna [mine] pit today and ask the women who are the traditional landowners there they will tell you that in the life the wealthiest mine on the planet at the time, they did not get paid enough to buy food from the mine supermarket

“If Australia is genuine about rebuilding its relationship with us they need to send us useful people like nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers – not bureaucrats,” Watawi said.

“Australia would have won more power and influence here if they had sent us a drunk rugby team rather than their current batch of bureaucrats.

“Compare this to New Zealand [which has] slowly and carefully with great cultural awareness built the Bougainville police force and law and justice sector since the signing of the peace agreement in 2001,” Watawi said.

“The result is that New Zealand is a trusted and respected international partner and member of our community.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ralph Regenvanu: Pacific regionalism, climate finance and women in politics

Tess Newton Cain talks to Ralph Regenvanu

During a recent trip to Port Vila, Tess Newton Cain caught up with Ralph Regenvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade in the Vanuatu government.

Regenvanu describes himself as a Port Vila citizen. He has lived for most of his life in the capital of Vanuatu, other than for a period of time when he was studying in Australia (he holds an honours degree in anthropology and development studies from the Australian National University (ANU).

He spent more than a decade as director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, prior to a return to university in 2007, this time to study law at the University of the South Pacific. Then his political career took off:

Halfway through my degree, I stood for election, and I got in at the end of 2008 as an independent candidate. And myself and the others who were with me in the political journey set up the Graon mo Jastis Pati in 2010.

This is Minister Regenvanu’s third term in Parliament and he has held a number of portfolios since 2008. He took over as Minister for Foreign Affairs in December 2017.

So, what are Vanuatu’s foreign policy priorities and what would he like to see his ministry achieve during his tenure as its leader? Significantly, the minister points to internal matters as being more significant than external issues:

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The biggest issues of this ministry are not so much external issues. The biggest issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the internal coordination of the government so that we can strategically approach our international relations and diplomacy. So, at the moment, it is quite difficult to effectively strategise about how Vanuatu places itself in the world, especially the most important thing for us on the horizon is the LDC graduation in 2020.

More opportunities
The minister explained that he thinks there are more opportunities for Vanuatu to work strategically bilaterally, regionally and globally. This is what will be required as the impacts of Least Developed Country (LDC) graduation take effect after 2020.

Therefore, he is focused on getting the internal infrastructure right between his ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office (which is responsible for aid coordination), the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (which has carriage of the EDF11 program).

Politics in Vanuatu and voter behaviour tends to focus on the hyper-local issues so how can the work of the Foreign Minister and his Ministry be translated into messages that resonate with the urban voters of Port Vila, which is where Minister Regenvanu’s constituency sits?

…the best way to really make people appreciate our foreign relations is, of course, all the aid projects, right? And being able to show that they are well chosen, have high impact on the lives of people, that they’re conducted in a manner which is transparent, and they’re done efficiently. And that brings me back to what I originally said about being very strategic in how we organise ourselves internally to get projects, attract the right kind of projects and the right kind of conditions that we want.

The second aspect of foreign affairs that the minister believes resonates with voters is one that is essentially part of the DNA of Vanuatu:

There is, of course, the very popular issue in Vanuatu of West Papua, and that’s also something which governments need to take heed of, in terms of the very, very popular support for the independence of West Papua in Vanuatu, which is translated into one of our foreign affairs objectives.

A third, emerging, narrative is around the growing awareness of the impacts of climate change in Vanuatu. On that note, we discussed recent statements the minister had made regarding climate finance and, in particular, the issue of compensation for loss and damage.

Frustration over key issues
He expressed a certain amount of frustration with the actions (or lack thereof) of developed countries in relation to some key issues:

You’ve got to play the game that you yourself agreed to. So, when it comes to the Green Climate Fund, for example,… it’s a very poor effort by the developed countries who’ve said that they would contribute. Let alone, talking about loss and damage, which has absolutely no contributions, even though that was also an agreement made by all the countries…

I reminded the minister he had previously expressed to me a degree of scepticism about the value of regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF). What are his current views on this?

I think the Pacific Islands Forum is definitely useful, especially in terms of articulating common positions and being a conduit for development finance, accessing larger facilities and so on… I can’t say the same about the MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group]. I think the MSG is… it’s disappointing, to say the least and there’s a question of its relevance.

The minister accepts that Vanuatu has a particular interest in the MSG, but says that ongoing support depends on management decisions made in the next little while. While the decision on the membership application of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) is top of that list, there are other concerns around management of the organisation as well. As for the PIDF?

We’re currently not a member. And we’re just — I suppose we’re just watching it to see — we’re really more invested in the Forum at this stage.

Last, but not least, we turned to the issue of increased participation of women in political decision-making. This is an issue on which Minister Regenvanu has long been very vocal. Further to his contribution to getting temporary special measures included in municipal elections in Port Vila and Luganville, what is next in this space?

Gender political space
…the next step is going for political party legislation, which is what we’re working on now, to get a new bill through Parliament, which provides for the regulation of political parties. At the moment, we have nothing like that in Vanuatu. So, just a very simple law that says you have to register a political party according to certain criteria… And then in that legislation, I think, is room to create measures… by which women can get more representation.

Minister Regenvanu continues to be a prominent and influential member of the Vanuatu Parliament and government. We will be watching his political progress with interest.

Dr Tess Newton Cain is the principal of TNC Pacific Consulting and is a visiting fellow at the Development Policy Centre in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. She is a citizen of Vanuatu where she lived for almost 20 years and is now based in Brisbane.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Indonesian influence in the Pacific grows, brushing aside West Papua

By Johnny Blades of RNZ Pacific in Wellington

Indonesia’s influence in the Pacific Islands is growing, but is shadowed by disquiet over its region of Papua, known widely as West Papua.

The West Papuan independence movement has significant traction in the region, where it continues to push for its self-determination aspirations to be addressed by the international community.

Considering Papua’s political status as non-negotiable, Indonesia has been busy strengthening ties with a number of countries in the three Pacific Islands regions of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia.

READ MORE: Indonesia strengthens ties with Pacific ‘good friends’

Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent months, Indonesian cabinet minister Wiranto attended independence anniversary celebrations on Nauru, and the president of the Federated States of Micronesia was given red carpet treatment in Jakarta.

Jakarta says this is about working together with Pacific island countries on mutual interests. Others say it’s principally about quelling support for West Papuan independence aims.

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Some regional observers even suspect the hand of Jakarta was at play behind the change in the Solomon Islands government’s policy on West Papua since Rick Hou replaced Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister last December.

April’s visit by a Solomon Islands delegation to Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua provinces caused an upset among some elements of civil society in Honiara, but showed how extensive Jakarta’s diplomatic outreach has become.

Serious threat
The secretary of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Rex Rumakiek, said Australia’s angst about the rising influence of China in the Pacific missed a more serious regional threat.

“The Melanesian countries are not very much concerned about Chinese influence. They are concerned mostly about the Indonesians’ influence in Melanesia, because they’re very destructive, they go right down to village level.

“They bribe people and buy political parties to change the government and so on. It’s already happening. It’s much more serious than the Chinese influence,” Rumakiek said.

LISTEN: RNZ’s Dateline Pacific

A spokesperson from Indonesia’s Embassy in Canberra, Sade Bimantara, said Rumakiek’s accusation was unsubstantiated and false.

He said Indonesia had consistently engaged and worked with Pacific Island nations for many years while respecting each other’s domestic affairs and sovereignty.

“On the contrary, a handful of people claiming Papuan heritage and living overseas are the ones interfering in the domestic politics of Papua and West Papua provinces,” Bimantara said.

“They are not citizens and were never democratically elected into public offices in those provinces by the 2.7 million voters of Papua and West Papua. And yet, they claim to be the rightful heir to the provinces.”

Franz Albert Joku … “Demographically, geographically, [Indonesia is] part of the Pacific. One third of the total area of the country, to the east, is inhabited by Melanesians and Polynesians.” Image: Koroi Hawkins/RNZ PacificIndonesia ‘part of Pacific’
According to Franzalbert Joku, who is a consultant for Jakarta on Papua issues, President Joko Widodo and his administration recognise that Indonesia is a part of the Pacific.

“Demographically, geographically, we are part of the Pacific. One third of the total area of the country, to the east, is inhabited by Melanesians and Polynesians,” he said.

Joku, a West Papuan who frequently represents Indonesia at meetings of the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum, said the country wanted to help small island countries with their development needs.

He cited Indonesian assistance in plans to build a convention centre in Tuvalu and a sports stadium in Kiribati as examples.

Indonesia is also offering help to Pacific Island countries with efforts to protect their all-important marine environment, although it is not the only larger country doing so.

Foreign governments sometimes take up the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua in their representations to Indonesia’s government.

But few human rights defenders would have been satisfed with wan assurances by Dutch Foreign Affairs minister Stef Blok that he discussed a recent damning Amnesty International report on the issue when in Jakarta last month.

Regional efforts obstructed
Some Pacific governments, notably Vanuatu, are concerned that Indonesia has obstructed efforts in regional forums to address West Papuan grievances.

A former Vanuatu prime minister and leader of the Vanua’aku Pati, Joe Natuman, said the move by some members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group to accept Indonesia into the regional organisation was problematic.

“Whoever had that wise idea is causing us problems,” he explained.

“You know, they said Indonesia comes into join [the MSG] to discuss issues of West Papua; Indonesia comes in and it doesn’t want to discuss West Papua. So I think we have to review the Indonesian membership of MSG.”

But Franz Albert Joku said it was not the responsibility of the MSG or Pacific Islands Forum to speak for Papuans. He said Papuans should be allowed to speak for themselves “by dealing with our own leaders in Jakarta and our own government.

“It’s not for offshore organisations like the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum to decide what should happen in Papua. Our position and especially our future is firmly within our grip.”

However, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), which has observer status at the MSG, argues that West Papuans are not free to express themselves and their political aspirations in their homeland.

Thousands arrested
Indonesian police arrested thousands of Papuans in 2016 when they demonstrated in Papuan cities in support of the Liberation Movement.

Jakarta also remains sensitive to regional calls for West Papua’s political status, and the controversial process by which the former Dutch New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia in the 1960s, to be reviewed.

Last month while in Fiji, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was reported to have encouraged regional countries to take the issue of West Papua to the United Nations Decolonisation Committee.

Following this, PNG’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato made a visit to Jakarta for talks with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi, reaffirming his country’s support for the status quo in the Papuan provinces.

“They are an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia,” he said.

“There has been some misreporting on this issue. Papua New Guinea’s position has not changed and there is no intention to ever change it.”

Natuman said he understood the sensitivity of the matter for PNG as West Papua’s neighbour.

“But I think they should be honest with themselves and discuss openly with the MSG and with Indonesia, and of course eventually we have to involve the United Nations,” he said.

United Nations mess
“This is a mess created by the United Nations, and the the United Nations have to come clean on this.”

The regional calls for international action on West Papua persist from the likes of New Zealand government MP Louisa Wall, who is among a small but vocal group of local MPs pushing for the issue of West Papuan self-determination to be heard at the UN.

“I believe in self-determination, I believe in indigenous rights. This is a right of the West Papuan indigenous peoples to re-litigate something that has been highlighted, actually was done in an unjust and unfair way,” Wall said.

Wall’s voice is still only part of a minority in New Zealand’s government whose formal position remains in support of Indonesian control of Papua.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with President Joko Widodo … reaffirmed backing for Indonesia. Image: Marty Melville/Pool

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, reiterated this support to Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo during his state visit to Wellington earlier this year.

The issue of human rights abuses in Papua is a standing item on the agenda of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), whose leaders meet in Nauru next month.

Yesterday, the outgoing Forum chairman, Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, suggested some Pacific leaders sensationalised the alleged abuses by Indonesian military in Papua.

Speaking on national Radio 2AP, Tuilaepa, who has forged closer ties with Indonesia in the past year, conceded that various West Papuans wanted independence and sought to stop infringements of their human rights.

Tuilaepa said that where it concerned human rights issues, they should take up the matter through the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The Pacific Media Centre has a content sharing partnership with RNZ Pacific.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Jokowi, Mahathir discuss migrant worker protection, border deal

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (right) shakes hands with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad after giving a joint statement at the Bogor Palace. Image: Puspa Perwitasari/Antara/Jakarta Post

By Marguerite Afra Sapiie in Jakarta

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad have met for a bilateral talk, exploring issues ranging from education for Indonesian children in Malaysia to border negotiations.

Jokowi welcomed Mahathir at the Bogor Palace on Friday. This marked the first foreign visit of Mahathir, the world’s oldest elected leader, to an ASEAN country since he was sworn in as prime minister for the sixth time on May 10.

The two leaders held a tete-a-tete followed by a closed meeting between Indonesian and Malaysian delegations, during which they discussed various issues, such as strengthening bilateral relations.

Speaking in a joint statement, Jokowi said Indonesia and Malaysia shared the same commitment to promoting good governance and combating corruption.

They both agreed on the importance of connectivity and the settlement of unresolved border problems.

“[Indonesia] in particular called for the protection of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, as well as the development of schools for Indonesian children in Malaysia,” Jokowi said.

-Partners-

Almost 2 million Indonesian migrant workers currently work in Malaysia.

Mahathir acknowledged the need for the children of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia to have their rights to education fulfilled. A number of schools had been established in Peninsular Malaysia, though more were needed, he said.

“However, schools for Indonesian children are not yet established in Sabah and Serawak and, therefore, we will improve this [situation],” Mahathir said, adding that his government was committed to working with Jakarta to resolve border issues.

Marguerite Afra Sapiie is a journalist with the Jakarta Post.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media