Australian bourg media on Asia/Pacific
alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Fri Jun 9 07:12:58 MDT 2000
Here are couple of articles from the bourgeois media. They seem to pretty
much reflect the thinking of Australian capital in general.
My favourite quotes are from the second article:
"The small but vocal West Papua lobby in Australia has plugged away over
the years, highlighting the massacres and other abuses perpetrated by
"The real danger for the Howard Government is that public opinion once
again will swing against Indonesia and force a response to the West Papua
It's nice to be appreciated.
alanb at elf.brisnet.org.au
>From The Australian (national daily Murdoch newspaper):
Breaking up brings no benefit
Foreign editor GREG SHERIDAN
IN the wake of Fiji and the Solomon Islands, there is another Melanesian
development this week that threatens even greater trouble for Australia.
That is the declaration by a large, at least partly representative, West
Papuan congress that they want full independence from Indonesia.
Since the congress was held last Sunday there have been violent clashes
between pro-independence militias and pro-autonomy militias that want the
province to remain part of Indonesia.
Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid has forcefully rejected the
independence bid while also calling on the Indonesian military not to react
Just as the Fiji coup begat the Solomon Islands coup, so the example of
East Timor has had a big effect on West Papua. Indeed some South Pacific
analysts believe the East Timor situation fed directly into South Pacific
conflicts the notion that you can successfully challenge the authority of
an apparently stable state, that you can overturn long established state
Be that as it may, it is undeniable that we are looking at the
Balkanisation of the Melanesian world starting from eastern Indonesia and
running through Papua New Guinea and down through the South Pacific island
nations to our east.
This is a nightmare scenario for Canberra, with the potential not only for
humanitarian disasters but for all manner of grave damage to our vital
Among some commentators, and even the odd, eccentric official, there is
wild and irresponsible talk of it being not necessarily a bad thing if the
"Javanese empire" of Indonesia were to break up. This is perhaps the single
most foolish proposition possible for an Australian strategic thinker to
Very few states, and certainly few modern, post-colonial states, had
perfect acts of self-determination at their formation. But once you get
into the business of supporting ethnic separatism, it never ends. You
encourage the evil zero sum calculation that lies at the heart of much
modern conflict: Why should I be a minority in your state when I can make
you a minority in mine?
The degree of real ethnic difference doesn't matter only the hostility
that surrounds the difference. It doesn't have to involve different races,
as in the case of ethnic Fijians and Indians. It can be merely different
clans or island groups, as in the case of Guadalcanalese and Malaitans in
If the Javanese empire of Indonesia ever did break up, it would almost
certainly be a bloody and terrible business, with appalling consequences
for the region. Indonesia is so ethnically diverse, and there has been so
much internal migration, that vast campaigns of ethnic cleansing would be
The extreme regional nationalism, which almost always accompanies such
break-ups, would ensure this. We saw this even in East Timor when
non-ethnic Timorese fled, instantly depriving the territory of its
professional class, including key medical, educational and other service
Both Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer have
made it plain that Australia supports Indonesia's existing territorial
integrity. This is sensible policy. If West Papua ever does become
independent, the process should have absolutely nothing to do with us. We
should do much less than zero in encouraging West Papuan independence.
It is worth remembering that in many ways West Papua is different from East
Timor. West Papua, like the rest of Indonesia but unlike East Timor, was
part of the Dutch East Indies to which Indonesia is the successor state.
Despite the impressive organisation of the independence congress last
weekend, the West Papuan independence movement is not as well organised as
East Timor's was. And West Papuans themselves are even more divided by
tribalism than the East Timorese were. Further, the Indonesian army, while
it has done some very bad things in West Papua, has not behaved as badly as
it did in East Timor. And the non-Papuan proportion of the population, at
about 25 per cent, is much higher than the ethnic non-Timorese proportion
of the population was in East Timor.
BUT the single most important difference is the lack, at this moment, of
international support. All ethnic separatist movements have some measure of
justice and popular support. But overall the world would be an infinitely
poorer place, much more violent and much less just, if they all succeeded.
What brings success to such movements is normally neither justice nor even
perseverance but international support. Because it is international support
that can raise to unacceptable levels the cost to the central government of
hanging on to a rebellious province.
There are many frightening aspects to the situation in West Papua. There is
the growing violence and the emergence of the militia movements, the
general weakness of the Indonesian state right now, the economic importance
of West Papua's resources to Indonesia which make it vulnerable to economic
terrorism. There is also the long land border with PNG, which could add any
number of complications to the situation.
Indonesia's democratic President has won great international legitimacy for
himself and his Government. It is vital that his army now do nothing that
would swing international sentiment decisively behind West Papuan
It's vital for him, and it's also vital for us.
>From The Courier-Mail (Brisbane daily Murdoch paper), 9th June:
The far from pacific can get even worse
David Costello, foreign editor
The view to our north is not a pretty sight right now.
Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Fiji and now the Solomon Islands form a ring
of fire and instability across the Asia-Pacific frontier.
Could this difficult outlook get worse. Yes, it could if Indonesia's
province of West Papua explodes into widespread violence. The chances of
this happening are high.
Separatist Melanesian warriors in the Free Papua Movement have waged a
low-level conflict for 30 years but the push for independence has really
gained momentum following East Timor's painful departure from Indonesian
A Papuan People's Congress last weekend reaffirmed a 1961 declaration of
independence, waving a red rag at Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid,
who is desperate to stop further fragmentation of his fragile country.
On the face of it, West Papua's case for independence is at least as
compelling as that of East Timor.
There is no doubt that it was press-ganged into Indonesia in 1969 in a
UN-supervised process that was anything but free and fair.
So where does this leave Australia? For starters, there will be no
Australian calls for a process of self-determination this time - this is a
crisis Canberra doesn't want to know about.
The official line, as reaffirmed this week by Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer and his Indonesian counterpart Alwi Shihab, is that Australia
recognises Jakarta's sovereignty.
The bottom line here is that Australia's interests would be best served by
West Papua staying in the Indonesian camp. We have a vital interest in
Indonesia hanging together as a stable nation. The alternative would be a
stategic nightmare for us. Secondly, an independent West Papua would be
another basket-case nation on our doorstep.
The bad news for the Howard Government is that West Papua is already
contaminating relations with Jakarta.
Some Indonesian commentators doubt Australia's sincerity over the issue.
Indeed this week, the official Antara news agency this week quoted
economist Efrizal Sofyan as saying Australia could be supporting West
Papua's independence push in a plot to stake a claim on the province's rich
These suspicions will intensify as West Papua emerges from obscurity to
become front-page news.
The small but vocal West Papua lobby in Australia has plugged away over the
years, highlighting the massacres and other abuses perpetrated by
The latest round of reports, which indicate that the Indonesians are
repeating their East Timor tactics by funding militias to combat
pro-independence forces, will add more fuel to the fire. The news this
week that a pro-autonomy militia, the Satgas Merah Putih (Red and White
Taskforce) was involved in an attack near Jayapura, brings back vivid
memories of East Timor.
The real danger for the Howard Government is that public opinion once again
will swing against Indonesia and force a response to the West Papua crisis.
However things pan out, the only news on this front is likely to be bad.
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