As the Melanesian Spearhead Group meets in Honiara today one issue should be off the table — full membership for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
In almost a decade of existence, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) has shown its potential to be “the strong man of the South Pacific”. It is making the region more economically integrated while sustaining its Melanesian cultural identity. However, one issue threatens the Group’s core interests and imperils the whole MSG project.
As the MSG meets in Honiara today among other issues, it will consider the the United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s (ULMWP) application for full membership in the Group.
But the ULMWP’s continuing disruptive and destructive practices in the MSG process are dangerous for its unity and integrity. It was created to represent the voices of overseas Papuans, who may still have Indonesian citizenship, as well as the many who have renounced their citizenship.
The Movement does not represent the almost four million residents of Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia where citizens directly elect their real leaders in fair and transparent elections.
The ULMWP’s lone agenda of taking territories away from a sovereign country sets a grave precedent. By allowing the ULMWP to hijack the Group’s agenda, and with some member countries offering their support for full membership, the MSG is unintentionally sending the wrong message.
It is saying that it is okay for other political organisations to join the group and demand a chunk of a country’s territories for themselves. It is saying that it is fine to betray the Agreed Principles of Cooperation of the MSG: “the principles of respect for each other’s sovereignty.” It is also saying that it is acceptable to alienate a significant portion of the Melanesian population in the Pacific.
It is an undeniable demographic and geographic reality that 11 million people of Melanesian ancestry live in the five Indonesian provinces of East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, North Maluku, Papua and West Papua. If the voices of more than half of the Melanesian population are not welcome, it is hard to achieve the Group’s goal of cultural solidarity and a greater voice for the Melanesian people.
It is time for the MSG to shift its focus back to what matters: cultural solidarity and development of the Melanesian people.
With an inclusive approach that welcomes the Melanesian population living in the eastern parts of Indonesia, the MSG can truly engage in initiatives that strengthen the bonds of cultural solidarity among Melanesians.
Last month, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu agreed to a new and more comprehensive trade agreement. Dubbed as the MSGTA3, this agreement covers both commodity and trade in services, labour mobility and investment.
By extending this agreement to include all countries that have a significant Melanesian population, for instance, trade and investment among members will significantly grow. MSG members largely produce similar exports, which offset the benefits of the free trade agreement. By trading with other countries that produce a variety of goods that are somewhat different from what the members produce, the MSG will gain from a more extensive trade and investment.
An increased foreign trade will boost the economic growth of MSG members. Residents of Honiara, Port Vila, Port Moresby and Jayapura will enjoy a greater variety of goods and services. Increased international trade will introduce better methods of production and promotes efficiency that lowers the costs for consumers.
As the market widens for each member, more jobs will be created to cater new demands for products and services. An increased international trade will also foster goodwill, mutual understanding and closer cultural connection among all the countries involved.
As the MSG leaders meet in Honiara, Solomon Islands this Thursday the choice is stark. Does the MSG want the presence of the ULMWP to unravel the achievements and institutional framework painstakingly built over the years? Does it want to distance itself from a significant portion of the Melanesian population?
The stakeholders of MSG, its members, the Melanesian people and the region will be better off when the Group refocuses its energy on what matters. On locking cultural solidarity for all Melanesians. On facilitating the delivery of goods and services affordable to all. On helping to create jobs and raise prosperity for all Melanesians in the region.
Sade Bimantara is spokesperson for the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, Australia. The views expressed in this article are his own. Follow him on Twitter @SadeBimantara.