On November 12-18 2018, The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting is going to be held in Papua New Guinea. The meeting is the biggest comprehensive high level economic conference involving every crucial aspect of decision making process in national economic policies between Asia-Pacific countries.

The meeting will be attended not only by Pacific islands countries, but also economic superpowers like the US and China. Countries are committed to send multiple delegations, consisting of ministers, businessmen, CEOs, academics, and ultimately country leaders. Since many business leaders and representatives of private companies will be there, there will always be multi-million US$ of trade deals discussed, or even signed, in APEC meetings.

In occasions like APEC, there are always threats from violent pressure groups who would benefit from sabotaging the meetings.

Request for Demonstration

An association  called the “West Papua Interest Association” was denied the permission to run a demonstration in the Kiunga-Tabubil area, near the location of the meeting. The group was planning to bring 200 people.

The association looks rather informal, and they do not have any affiliation with groups such as ULMWP and KNPB. It is uncommon to see a group that claims to represent the interests of West Papua without mentioning the usual, familiar names: Benny Wenda, Rumbiak, Tanggahma, et.al.

APEC, which is going to be held in Papua New Guinea this year, is a golden opportunity for political groups in PNG and West Papua to grab some spotlight for themselves. The meeting will be a high-level conference where leaders of prominent countries and biggest multinational companies is going to faithfully attend. If any incidents happen, that would be a big exposure for any separatist group, at the same time damaging the image of West Papua and PNG in the eyes of financial investors.

Looking at the sites (yes, they have multiple ‘sites’, mostly from free-of-charge blogs), a reasonable viewer will draw a conclusion that the ‘Free West Papua’ movement is just a loose umbrella term that we use for so many West Papuan separatist groups. The simple fact that these different groups did not choose to be united is a very strong indication that there are conflicting interests between groups.

PNG’s Response

Predictably, the Papua New Guinean police authority did not issue a permit for the association. In the letter sighted by this paper, the team of 200 men and women would be coming in from Oksibil Star Mountain Regency of West Papua. The 200 men and women would comprise 50 security forces and 150 men and women representing each district. It is not given how the representatives are chosen, and who the 50 ‘security forces’ really are or will do.

Oksibil Star Mountain is a part well known for its frequent violent clashes, all of them between civilians. Incidents happen regularly since most of the residents are involved in local or even national politics, and all the parties are relatively prone to provocations.

The letter of request to police authority was signed by Kare Kotanon Urupkulin, the international border coordinator and stamped by Geoff Mecky Uropkulin, the association’s team representative. The aim of the association was said to be carrying out human rights violation awareness for one week in Kiunga.

Impact for Pacific Countries and their Economy

PNG’s border commander ACP Samson Kua said that while he understood their rights to host an awareness of their continued efforts, he said that at a time when the country is ready to deliver APEC in two weeks time, there should be no disruptions on the borders of the country. Mr Kua said that the security for the country is imperative and important to maintain.

While APEC in Papua New Guinea is a golden spotlight for separatists, demonstrations  that threaten the safety of high-ranking company or government officials will be bad for all Melanesian countries’ economic climate, especially investments. Any incidents could be an international scandal (or worst: tragedy), and consequently damage the image of West Papua, PNG, and the whole Asia-Pacific region. A disruption towards diplomatic talks can possibly cancel not only trade agreements, but also the progress of confidence building between countries with tense relationship. The relationship between Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, for example, is just one case where any simple incident could escalate political conflicts.

It is important to remember that any violent incident would cause international media exposure during APEC, thus, security measures during the conference in a country close to separatist groups should really be taken care of. If the separatist movements genuinely care for their Melanesian brothers and not only the politics, they would never do harm towards the future of Pacific island countries’ economy.