Why Pacific Island countries are very important for Indonesia

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This article is inspired by article in Solomon Star, 15 July 2016. I am flabbergasted reading Mr Alfred Sasako article, which I interpret cleverly illustrates the West Papua issue within Indonesia – Solomon Islands relations.

Indonesia’s authoritarian New Order for many years had not even blinked its eyes to build a strong relation with Pacific Island countries. Bilateral and multilateral relations with Pacific Island countries were just accessories in Indonesia’s foreign policy. For Indonesian diplomats, to be posted at any Pacific Island countries was a curse for not having bright future in their career. 

However, since the reform movement especially in the year of 2001, Indonesia started a new chapter in its foreign policy to build its first closer engagement with Pacific Island countries. President Abdurrahman Wahid was the first Indonesian President who seriously stressed the importance of Pacific Island countries. Quoting from Indonesian senior Diplomat Mr. Arto Suryodipuro’s article at Jakarta Post, he said that on the institutional side, Indonesia obtained post-forum dialogue status with the Pacific Islands Forum in 2001 and established the South-West Pacific Dialogue in 2002 with the Philippines, PNG, Timor Leste, Australia and New Zealand, as a way to bridge Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Indonesia now has bilateral relations with all Pacific Island countries (most recently with Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu). In 2009, on the sidelines of the World Ocean Conference, Indonesia established the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI) with Malaysia, the Philippines, PNG and the Solomon Islands. In 2011, Indonesia obtained observer status with the MSG. Now, for Indonesian diplomats, it is an honor to be part of the Pacific Island team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

14 years after the first closer engagement with Pacific Island countries, in June 24 to 26, 2015, the summit meeting of the member countries in Honiara, Solomon Islands concluded with key decisions; Indonesia was elevated to associate member of the group. However, a group claimed as representative of West Papuan outside Indonesia named the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) got observer status. The Melanesian Spearhead Group was founded in 1986 to promote and strengthen trade, promote Melanesian cultures, further the economic growth of its members, sustainable development, good governance, and security.

Indonesia’s bid to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group is part of a long effort since Indonesia introduced the concept of geographic proximity, and Pacific Island countries are among the closest to Indonesia. In the past, Indonesia might forget about its neighbors in the eastern part and slightly discouraged by the domination of Australia in the Pacific. But now, as a fellow democratic country, Indonesia understands Australia better and suspicious feeling against Australia diminished gradually. In a more strategic sense, a strong relation among Melanesians in the Pacific is vital in responding to the increasing influence of China and the US policy towards East Asia and the Pacific. It is in the interest of all Melanesians to unite and build strong ties to protect their interests

Indonesia has taken many steps to join the MSG and shown serious efforts to strengthen cooperation. For Indonesia, to be part of Pacific Island countries family is inevitable as in fact 11 millions Indonesian are Melanesian. To be part of the Pacific Island countries family means sharing Indonesia’s experience in building ASEAN as a strong regional cooperation. To be part of the Pacific Island countries family, will open bigger opportunity to connect the economy for prosperous Pacific Islands and Asia. To be part of the Pacific Island countries family is also empowering Pacific Island countries in balancing the power competition among global power in the region. Of course, it would be naive if I set aside the West Papua issue. The MSG has better card in putting Indonesia as associate member and ULMWP as observer, because MSG may be the only international forum that make conflicted parties in West Papua sit together. With this opportunity, the MSG member states are able to contribute to the creation of a more conducive atmosphere and at the same time push their interests to develop stable and prosperous region.

 

 

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