On 4 November, New Caledonia conducted a referendum deciding whether they wish to become independent from France.
The group of islands is located in the south Pacific, just east of Australia. It is a two-hour flight from Queensland to the country’s capital of Noumea. New Caledonia is a dependent overseas territory of France, and not an independent nation, and has been part of France since 1853.
The results of the Referendum have been released this Monday, voters in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have rejected a bid for independence.
Reported by BBC.com, the final results showed that 56.4% chose to remain part of France while 43.6% voted to leave – a tighter result than some polls had predicted.
Turnout was about 81%. The vote was promised in a-1988-deal that put an end to a violent campaign for independence.
President Emmanuel Macron said it showed “confidence in the French Republic”.
“I have to tell you how proud I am that we have finally passed this historic step together,” he added.
Why did the New Caledonia people continue to vote for France? The following are relevant things that must be understood and accepted by separatist groups and Free West Papua sympathizers.
1. Ethnicity is not the Basis of a Country
For a long time, The Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) rose against loyalists of the territory, leading to conflict along the distinct ethnic divide.
About 175,000 people were eligible to vote in Sunday’s referendum New Caledonia, east of Australia, where indigenous Kanaks make up 39.1% of the population.
French nationalism is strong among the territory’s ethnic Europeans – constituting 27.1% of the population – and observers say even some Kanaks back staying part of France.
The remaining third of the population of New Caledonia’s 268,000 inhabitants are also largely said to oppose independence.
The basis of establishing a country stipulated by four elements: population, territories, a government, and the capacity to enter relations with other states. It had never been stated that ethnic or race was an underlining reason for the rights to be a country.
This must be a lesson for separatist groups and Free West Papua supporters who always debate the indigenous Papuan as a part of the Melanesian race. Whereas in fact, there are 13 millions of Melanesians living in five Indonesian provinces: East Nusa Tenggara, Papua, West Papua, Maluku, and North Maluku.
2. Clear Development Plan
New Caledonia receive about €1.3bn (£1.1bn; $1.5bn) from the French government every year. And New Caledonia has more autonomy (self-governance) than any other part of France. Unlike European regions of France – even overseas regions like French Guiana, Guadeloupe, or Mayotte – New Caledonia has its own legislature, citizenship, and flag, with the right to make its own laws for most internal purposes. The French government in Paris is still in charge of defense, border control, and some other areas of governance.
Like the West Papua issue, Indonesia government recognized Papuan People’s Melanesian identity through Law No. 21/2001 on the West Papua province special autonomy. They are considered to be a part of the culturally and multi-ethnically diverse nation of Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest and most diverse. There is no such thing as stereotyping people based on what they look like. They are all Indonesians and they are all equal before the Indonesian law. In short, the Melanesian identity was a blessing to Indonesia’s Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.
And just like any other ethnicity or cultural groups in Indonesia, it is time for supporter of separatists Free West Papua region to shift its focus back to what matters: to build Papua.
In 2018, the Government of Indonesia disbursed budget funds for Papua and West papua of USD 3,892,020,000 or $3.8bn.
The Indonesian government is now focusing on building West Papua to create economic equality throughout Papua and West Papua including of immediate construction of Trans Papua Road to open isolated area. The total length of trans-Papua, which is targeted to be completed entirely by the end of 2019, is 4,330 KM. Also other community welfare programs such as: Family Hope Program (social aids for poor families), Health Program (Papuan Health Card), Poverty Alleviation Program (Mama-Mama Market), dan Educational Program (Smart Indonesia Program).
Meanwhile, there has never been a separatist group and sympathizers of Free West Papua supporters who discussed how they would develop Papua. They always hide behind human rights cases but never demand solutions to human rights actions. They strive for independence without a clear development plan basis.
3. Politicization of Issues for Political Interest
One of the most worrisome point regarding the New Caledonia referendum is concerns over increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific, where Beijing has been invested heavily in Vanuatu; a territory which broke from France and Britain in 1980. President Macron said China was “building its hegemony step by step” in the region, suggesting an independent New Caledonia could be Beijing’s next target.
Likewise with the West Papua issue, which is always used as political material by Vanuatu. Vanuatu always engages in open conflict with Indonesia about human rights issue in Papua. Indonesia is not pleased with Vanuatu’s stance to carry out the interest of separatism through the politicization of the human rights issue in Papua.
Indonesia called on Vanuatu to uphold and respect the basic principles of human rights in accordance with their commitment and support to the UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 to not politicize human rights, specifically politicization of human rights issues through separatist aspirations expressed by a number of panelists including the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP).
Vanuatu had promoted the aspirations of Papuan separatism. The provinces of Papua and West Papua are integral regions of Indonesia where the process of determining one’s own destiny has been completed and is recognized internationally by the United Nations in 1969 called as “The Act of Free Choice”.
West Papua is Different from New Caledonia After All
The most important thing to highlight is that the context of the issues of independence for New Caledonia and West Papua is different. Although separatist groups and Free West Papua sympathizers tried to equate the two, what they had to accept was the fact that the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia was based on the former Dutch colony, including Papua and West Papua. (Read more about: The Promise for West Papua’s Independence)
That is what caused 17,504 islands, 1,340 tribes, and 742 languages called themselves as Indonesia. The people of Indonesia are different, one from the other, but they are united in one nation. They are Different in their Unity and United in their Differences (Perbedaan dalam Kesatuan, Kesatuan dalam Perbedaan) or as Indonesia proudly called themselves Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.