The celebration of Indonesia’s 73rd Independence Day showed how Indonesia has been passing critical phases throughout the decade to get its ultimate national unity. Still, Indonesia has to face obstacles & have a long way to go to maintain its cohesive identity as a nation comprised of many different ethnic groups.
On August 15, 2018, two days before Indonesia’s Independence Day, demonstrations were held at Indonesian embassies in the UK and the Netherlands by the Free West Papua group.
Vanuatu, as one of Indonesia’s neighbor, made the situation worse by continuously providing assistance to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). This was proven by the full support of Vanuatu in organizing the first ULMWP Summit in Port Vila, Vanuatu on 27 November – 3 December 2017. Vanuatu had often accused Indonesia carried out human rights abuses of West Papua at several UN forums.
ULMWP itself is an umbrella organization for three major pro-independence Papuan groups, namely the the Federal Republic of West Papua (Indonesian: Negara Republik Federal Papua Barat, (NRFPB)), the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (Indonesian: Koalisi Nasional Papua Barat untuk Pembebasan or WPNCL) and the West Papua National Parliament (Indonesian: Parlemen Nasional Papua Barat or WPNP).
In 2014, ULMWP was first declared in Vanuatu, the core team consisting of Octovianus Mote (representing NFRPB) as secretary general, Benny Wenda (representing WPNP) as the international spokesperson, and Rex Rumakiek (WPNCL), Jacob Rumbiak (NFRPB) and Leonie Tanggahma (WPNCL) as the executive committee.
Not only helping & developing these separatists group of West Papua in Vanuatu. On the beginning of August 2018, Vanuatu appointed Laura Lini, Walter Lini daughter, as a special spokesperson to support the West Papua issue. This was warmly welcomed by the ULMWP spokesman, Jacob Rumbiak, “We are pleased and impressed, and thank Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu for the appointment at this pivotal moment in our struggle,” he said.
The Vanuatu government has interfered too much with Indonesia’s internal affairs. The Indonesian government has several times tried to establish a respectful relationship with Vanuatu using Checkbook Diplomacy manner. For example, Indonesia providing 25 hand tractors for the Vanuatu government which was then represented by Vanuatu’s Minister of Agriculture, Hon. David Tosul MP and Vanuatu Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture Howard Aru.
In 2015, Indonesia sent US$2 million worth of humanitarian aid to Vanuatu, which was devastated and economically crippled by a massive tropical cyclone that hit the Pacific island nation in March 2015. It was Indonesian commitment to strengthening bilateral relations with Vanuatu by providing not only humanitarian aid but also assistance in handling natural disasters, such as the reconstruction and rehabilitation processes.
Unfortunately, these “aid” did not have much effect as the Vanuatu Government continued to support the separatist groups of West Papua and even facilitated and hosted a reconciliation event for several groups of Free West Papua groups. Vanuatu has long backed the separatist groups with practical and diplomatic aid.
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. On 3 March 2017, the Indonesian delegates conveyed their condemnation when attending the event held by Vanuatu and Solomon Islands on the 34th Session of UNHRC in Geneva. The Indonesian delegates in the forum rejected the blind accusations, incapable of understanding, and Vanuatu’s reluctance to understand the real conditions in West Papua. The delegate also highlighted that Indonesia is not a colonial state and has never been a colonial state. The bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Vanuatu must be based on mutual respect for their respective sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Laura Lini’s father, Walter Lini, is Vanuatu’s “Father of Proclamation” who created the concept of “Melanesian Socialism” for the Melanesian race and the Southern Pacific region. He believed that the ideology of socialism is the most suitable ideology for the Melanesian race because it supports common ownership rather than individual ownership. Yet, he argued that this Melanesian Socialism does not have to be oriented to Russia or China, but is more inclined to encourage the unification of Melanesian-race countries. To widespread this concept in the major countries of South Pacific, Walter Lini took a Papuan musician who later became one of the OPM figures in Vanuatu, Andy Ayemiseba in 1983.
The concept of “Melanesian Socialism” then developed into an effort to unite the Melanesian-race countries. The Vanuatu government also supports the separatist group of New Caledonia, Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), to separate from France. It deteriorated the relationship between Vanuatu and France, even though at that time the French government was one of the main supporters of improving Vanuatu’s economy after Vanuatu’s independence.
Vanuatu realized that the territory of the Melanesian-race countries in the South Pacific is a strategic region. Therefore, countries with great economic power are trying to strengthen their influence in this region. The Vanuatu government receives many economic benefits from the checkbook diplomacy actions of other countries. The Vanuatu government cunningly exploit the hunger of large economic powers to instill influence in the Pacific countries.
Not only using the situation merely a squabble for influence in South Pacific, Vanuatu is also trying to take the major role as the leader of the Melanesian-race countries. Therefore, Vanuatu was willing to lose good relations with France, who was one of their main supporters of economy, to support the New Caledonia separatist group, the FLNKS, where according to I-Scope’s research, New Caledonians are likely to vote to remain a part of France.
Vanuatu’s support of the independence is not without a cost. Vanuatu has their own political interest to lead the states of Melanesians to increase their influence in the Pacific region, one of their ways is through supporting the separatist independence groups in Melanesians regions. If Vanuatu no longer sees any support for them to lead the states of Melanesians, they can simply withdraw their actions of supporting the separatist groups. What Vanuatu is doing today is an effort to build unity amongst Melanesian countries by breaking Indonesia’s unity. It is Vanuatu’s effort to have a strategic position in Pacific regions by beautifully crafted the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua.