19 April 2006

Papua, Indonesia and Australia

Papua (pronounced Pahp-wuh) was not part of Indonesia when it became independent after World War II, but remained a Dutch colony until it was annexed by Indonesia's corrupt Suharto regime in 1969. Since then the enormous Freeport copper mine there is worth about 10% of Indonesia's export income, and over a million indigenous Javanese - and proud Indonesians - have (been?) settled there.

It shouldn't really be part of Indonesia. In the 1960s some thought Papua should be part of some Melanesian federation including Papua New Guinea and the Solomons, but this probably looks better after an idle glance at a map rather than a detailed examination of the issues on the ground. The Papuans may be forgiven for not wishing to become part of other countries.

Papua should be a separate country, but it would be a poor one. Could it be 'independent' of the dodgy rackets that prop up Nauru (and I include the Australian government's "Pacific solution" along with Russian mafia money-laundering)? Could it be 'independent' of the racialist politics that bedevil Fiji? Could it develop even the threadbare institutions that the battle-forged East Timorese have? Are we being fair in throwing one of the world's most backward societies into the deep end of economic globalisation and geopolitical game-playing - or is it patronising to even ask such a question? Take the Indonesian boot off their faces, proponents argue, and we'll see.

Indonesians fear that Australians want to chip away at their country until the mighty Javanese Empire consists of nothing but little island statelets. Firstly, Australia has more than proved its loyalty to Indonesia over the years, regardless of the occasional paranoid hissy-fit from Jakarta. Secondly, a constellation of battling states (the kind that Downer once called "busted arse countries") would be a nightmare for Australia in terms of foreign policy, as well as policing illegal movements of drugs, people etc. Thirdly, paranoia keeps wayward Indonesians from straying too far from the official line, and Australia is as close to a credible whipping boy as they have (familiarity with other neighbours Malaysia and Singapore seem to have bred contempt for them as credible threats to the Javanese Empire).

Those responsible for Australia's foreign policy are under the pump over Iraq. The last time Indonesia expanded its real estate holdings was in 1975, which carefully coincided with a political crisis in Australia. It would seem that political crises here translate to negative political outcomes in the immediate region, which in turn create problems for Australians at home, and which strengthen the Javanese Empire to the point where piss-weak Australian politicians feel the need to truckle to it (Gareth Evans' idea of distancing Australia from Asia was to wipe Suharto's semen off his chin). A strong Australian foreign policy able to negotiate the realities of power with the aspirations and rights of people? Now that would be a great idea. Pity we don't have a government that can pull it off.

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