“We are part of them and they are part of us,” declared politician Augustine Rapa, founder and president of the PNG Liberal Democratic Party, on the 61st anniversary of the struggle for West Papuan independence earlier this month.
Rapa’s statement of West Papua at Gerehu, Port Moresby, on December 1 was in response to Papua New Guinean police who arrived at the anniversary celebration and tried to prevent Papuans from the other side of the colonial border from commemorating this significant national day.
According to Rapa, the issue of West Papua’s plight for liberation should be at the top of the agenda in PNG. Rapa also urged PNG’s Foreign Affairs Minister Justin Tkatchenko to take the plight of West Papuans to the United Nations.
Frank Makanuey, a senior West Papuan representative, also appealed to the PNG government to alter its foreign policy and law so Papuans from the other side of the border could continue to freely express their opinions peacefully, akin to the opinions and rights inscribed in the UN Charter of Indigenous People.
According to Makanuey, 7000 West Papuans living in PNG will continue to fight for their freedom for as long as they live, and when they die will pass on the torch of resistance to their children.
On the day of the commemoration, Minister Tkatchenko appeared in a short video interview reiterating the same message as Rapa.
“These West Papuans are part of our family; part of our members and are part of Papua New Guinea. They are not strangers,” the minister reminded the crowd.
‘Separated by imaginary lines’
“We are separated only by imaginary lines, which is why I am here.”
He added: “I did not come here to fight, to yell, to scream, to dictate, but to reach a common understanding — to respect the law of Papua New Guinea and the sovereignty of Indonesia.”
The minister then explained how West Papuans in PNG should be accommodated under PNG’s immigration law through an appropriate route.
A few days after this speech, the same minister attended bilateral meetings with countries and international organisations in the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu along with the Director General of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), ahead of the Indonesia-Pacific Forum for Development (IPFD) in Bali on December 6.
Following a ministerial meeting with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, Tkatchenko said: “As Papua New Guineans, we must support and respect Indonesia’s sovereignty.”
Tkatchenko said Port Moresby would work with Indonesia to resolve any issues that arose with West Papuans living in the country.
One of the most critical and concerning developments of this visit was the announcement of the defence cooperation agreement between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
“We are moving forward in the process of signing a defence cooperation agreement between PNG and Indonesia. We will work harder and partner on a common goal to achieve security along both countries’ borders,” Tkatchenko said.
Sllencing Melanesian leaders?
In January 2022, there was a meeting in Jakarta at the office of the state intelligence agency. It was intended to silence all Melanesian leaders who supported West Papua’s independence and bring them under Jakarta’s sphere of influence, with an allocation of roughly 450 billion rupiahs (about A$42.5 million).
A couple of months later, on March 30, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea led a large delegation to Indonesia for bilateral discussions.
Forestry, Fisheries, Energy, Kumul companies, and the Investment Promotion Authority were among the key sectors represented in the delegation. Apparently, this 24 hour trip in an Air Niugini charter from Port Moresby to Jakarta cost K5 million kina (AUD$2 million).
Considering such a large sum of money was spent on such a brief visit; this must have been a significant expedition with a considerable agenda.
Visits of this kind are usually described with words such as, “trade and investment”, but the real purpose for spending so much money on such a brief trip before an election, are facts the public will never know.
In this case, the “public” is ordinary Papuans on both sides of the border, that the foreign minister himself stated were separated by “imaginary lines”.
It is those imaginary lines that have caused so much division, destruction, and dislocation of Papuans from both sides to become part of Western and Asian narratives of “civilising” primitive Papuans.
Imaginary to real lines
Could the proposed defence agreement remove these imaginary lines, or would it strengthen them to become real and solid lines that would further divide and eliminate Papuans from the border region?
Prime Minister Marape grew up in the interior Papuan Highlands region of Tari, of the proud Huli nation, which shares ancient kinship with other original nations such as Yali, Kimyal, Hubula, Dani and Lani on the West Papuan side of the border.
As a custodian of this region, the Prime Minister may have witnessed some of the most devastating, unreported, humanitarian crises instigated by ruthless Indonesian military in this area, in the name of sovereignty and border protection.
Why does his government in Port Moresby boast about signing a defence agreement in Jakarta? Is this a death wish agreement for Papuans — his people and ancestral land, specially on the border region?
Which entity poses an existential threat to Papuans? Is it China, Australia, Indonesia, or the Papuans themselves?
It has also been reported that a state visit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo will take place next year through an invitation from Prime Minister Marape.
There is nothing unusual or uncommon about countries and nations making bilateral or multilateral agreements on any matter concerning their survival, no matter what their intentions may be. Especially when you share a direct border like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which has been stained by decades of protracted war waged against Papuans.
Why now for defence pact?
However, what is particularly interesting and concerning about the development between these two countries is, why now is the time to discuss a defence agreement after all these years?
What are the objectives of this initiative? Is it to serve the imperial agenda of Beijing, the United States, Jakarta, or is it to safeguard and protect the island of New Guinea? What is the purpose of a defence agreement, who is protected and who from?
Exactly like the past 500 years, when European vultures circled the island of New Guinea and sliced it up into pieces, new vultures are now encroaching upon us as the global hegemonic power structure shifts from West to East.
Responding to these developments, James Marape warned that his country would not be caught up in a geopolitical standoff with the US, Australia, or China, saying the global powers should “keep your fights to yourselves”.
But does the prime minister have a choice in this matter? Does he have the power to stop war if or when it breaks out in the Pacific like the past?
Let‘s be honest and ask ourselves, when did Papuans from both sides of this imaginary line have the power to say no to all kinds of brutal, exploitative behaviour exhibited by foreign powers?
From World War I to II, then to Pacific nuclear testing, and to foreign international bandits currently exploiting papua New Guinea’s natural resources?
Brutality of Indonesia
Since its independence, when has the PNG government been able to halt the brutality and onslaught of the Indonesians against their own people on the other side of these imaginary lines?
Why does PNG’s foreign affairs minister sit in Jakarta negotiating a defence deal with an entity that threatens to annihilate West Papuans, after he himself conveyed a heartfelt message to them on December 1?
Can both the prime minister and the foreign affairs minister avoid being caught in the middle of a looming war as the Pacific becomes yet another gift for strategic war space between the Imperial West and the Imperial East?
Benny Wenda, an international icon for the liberation of West Papua, made the following statement on his Facebook page in response to the defence agreement: “Let’s not make this happen, please, our PNG brothers and sisters open your eyes! Can’t you see they’re trying to take over our ancestors Land.”
While the PNG government gambles on West Papua’s fate with Jakarta, West Papuans are marginalised, chased, or hunted by establishing unlawful settler colonial administrative divisions across the heartland of New Guinea and direct military operations.
As Wenda warned in his latest report, “mass displacements are occurring in every corner of West Papua”.
Whatever the philosophical approach underlying Papua New Guinea’s foreign policies in relation to West Papua’s fate — realist or idealist, traditional or transcendental — what matters most to West Papuans is whether they will survive under Indonesian settler colonialism over the next 20 years.
A reverse situation
What if the situation is reversed, where Papuans in PNG were being slaughtered by Australian settler colonial rule, while the government of West Papua continues to sneak out across the border to Canberra to keep making agreements that threaten to annihilate PNG?
Papuans face a serious existential threat under Indonesia settler colonial rule, and the PNG government must be very careful in its dealings with Jakarta. Every single visit and action taken by both Papua New Guinea and Indonesia will leave a permanent mark on the wounded soul of West Papua.
The only question is will these actions destroy Papuans or rescue them?
The government and people of Papua New Guinea must consider who their neighbours will be in 100 years from now. Will they be a majority of Muslim Indonesians or a majority of Christian West Papuans?
It is a critical existential question that will determine the fate of the island, country, nation, as well as languages, culture and existence itself in its entirety.
Will the government and the people of Papua New Guinea view West Papuans as their brothers and sisters and restructure their collective worldview in the spirit of Rapa’s words, “we are part of them, and they are part of us”, or will they continue to sign agreements and treaties with Jakarta and send their secret police and army to chase and threaten West Papuans seeking protection anywhere on New Guinea’s soil?
West Papua is bleeding. The last thing West Papua needs is for the PNG government apparatus and forces to harass and chase them as they seek refuge under your roof.
Papua New Guinea is not the enemy of West Papua; the enemy of PNG is not West Papua.
The enemies are those who divide the island into pieces, exploit its resources and sign defence agreements to further solidify imaginary lines while leaving its original custodians of the land stranded on the streets and slums like beggars.
Papuans have lived in this ancient and timeless land from Sorong to Samarai for thousands of years. The actions we take today will determine whether the descendants of these archaic autochthons will survive in the next thousands of years to come.
Yamin Kogoya is a West Papuan academic who has a Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development from the Australian National University and who contributes to Asia Pacific Report. From the Lani tribe in the Papuan Highlands, he is currently living in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.