Following criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay of unnecessary violence in Papua, the opening of a Free West Papua Campaign office in Oxford, UK, has set off a wave of reaction.
Social media was buzzing with comments, mostly nationalist demands that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono take strong action against the UK, dismiss the UK ambassador, boycott its products, and nationalize its businesses operating in Indonesia.
Of course, none of these demands will ever be met since they would permanently damage Indonesian interests more than it would even scratch the UK.
London, alongside Washington, Beijing and Moscow, are the premium members of the “big boys” club, major players in global affairs exercising military, economic and political prowess with the ability to project soft power abroad. It is not in Jakarta’s interest to get on their wrong side.
When dealing with the big boys, Indonesia needs to handle the issue of Papua with tact, subtlety, and diplomacy. If anything, the Oxford debacle is simply a display of Indonesia’s failure to deal with the issue of Papua abroad and a very convenient diversion from the issues of corruption and intolerance facing the Yudhoyono administration.
The actions of NGOs, activists and the general public do not necessarily reflect the position and official policy of a country.
Having been awarded the Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath as well as access to UK military equipment amidst heavy protests and plans of a citizen’s arrest last year, Yudhoyono should understand this.
Deciding whether individuals are acting in an official or personal capacity should be the first order of business. But even then, the Westminster system of complex devolvement of powers and local governance also means that actions and decisions taken at the local level might diverge from the country’s official standpoint.
In retrospect, a former Jakarta governor’s attendance at Islam Defenders Front (FPI) meetings and a former vice president’s defense of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir have never been read by the UK as Jakarta’s official support of sharia vigilantism or international terrorism. It is only fitting that Indonesia reciprocate in kind.
Although the UK has always been — and will continue to be — firm in its support of Indonesian sovereignty, they are still obliged to safeguard freedom of speech and civil liberties at home. Demanding that the UK deny Papuan activists the freedom of speech would be Indonesian intervention in their domestic affairs — a breach of our very own principle of non-intervention.
Second, issues of strategic interests should be engaged with — both at home as well as abroad. Even the “big boys” themselves have domestic problems. Beijing, for instance, has problems with Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet, while Moscow has to deal with the terrorism and separatism in Chechnya.
Instead of avoiding, fearing or entering the international stage half-heartedly, the “big boys” choose to harness the benefits of international attention and cooperation to their advantage instead.
China, for example, has engaged with countries in the South Pacific to secure their commitment to a “one China policy” against Taiwan and actively cooperating with Moscow through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to curb “terrorism, separatism and extremism” in an effort to promote stability in Xinjiang. After the Boston marathon bombing, Moscow might now utilize the “war on terror” rhetoric to hold the moral high ground on policies in Chechnya.
In a globalized world, “internationalization” is not a game you can opt out of. On Papua, refusing to pursue Indonesian national interest abroad is, interestingly, another breach of our own principle of being “active” in the international stage.
Lastly, Indonesia should refrain from scapegoating and focus more on solving the actual problem at hand. The issue of Papua can only be solved by building bridges, not by burning them.
Indonesia’s diplomacy needs to court dissenting voices abroad, listen empathetically to critical voices in international seminars, conferences, newspaper commentaries and engage in an “everyday dialogue” to sustainably forge mutual understanding, exchanges and cooperation at the unofficial as well as individual level.
London has been dealing with a very delicate situation in Northern Ireland and facing secessionist aspirations in Scotland.
Obviously, they are the least likely country to question Indonesian sovereignty. At this point, the UK is more valuable as a strategic partner than a scapegoat.
Although Papua needs a political solution, it does not need this kind of politicization. This current politicization of Papua does not benefit ordinary Papuans, it merely shows Indonesia’s own inability to engage with the issue of Papua on the international scene.
Furthermore, for Yudhoyono it is a most welcome distraction from the more pressing domestic agendas of reform.
Blaming the UK for our own inability to solve domestic problems and refusal to court dissenting Papuans abroad breaches two of our own principles of “non-intervention” and being active on the international stage. For the time being, Indonesia needs to keep calm and play it like the “big boys”.
The writer is executive director of the Marthinus Academy and author of Solving Papuan Grievances (University of Indonesia Press, 2012). ----------------------------------------------------------
Pressing issues: Papua Governor Lukas Enembe (right) and Papuan People’s Assembly chairman Timotius Murip listen as they meet with House Deputy Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso in Jakarta on Monday. They discussed the establishment of a free Papua office in Oxford, Britain and an extended autonomy scheme for Papua proposed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Antara/Andika Wahyu
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa summoned British Ambassador to Indonesia Mark Canning on Monday and filed a diplomatic protest against the British government over the recent opening of a Free West Papua (OPM) office in Oxford.
“This incident is not consistent with what the British government has repeatedly stated in past years about respecting Indonesia’s sovereignty,” Marty said after his meeting with Canning as quoted by Antara news agency.
The Indonesian government was visibly incensed by the Mayor of Oxford, Mohammed Abbasi, member of the UK parliament from Oxford Andrew Smith and former mayor Elise Benjamin, who reportedly attended the opening ceremony of the OPM office in Oxford earlier this month.
With the move, the British government was perceived as giving support to the call for Papua’s independence.
Papuans living in exile set up the office in Oxford last week as part of their 44-year campaign to separate the former Dutch colony from Indonesia.
In a previous statement, Marty said that the Indonesian government strongly objected to the opening of the so-called OPM office and asked the British government to be consistent in its policy of not supporting any action related to the separatist movement in Papua and West Papua provinces.
After Monday’s meeting, Canning said he explained to Marty that the UK recognized the sensitivity of this issue for Indonesia.
He said that the British government respected the territorial integrity of Indonesia and did not support calls for Papuan independence.
“We regard Papua as a part of Indonesia. That has always been our view, and this recent development, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the British government, does nothing to change that. We also support the effort of those, like the Presidential Delivery Unit (UKP4), who are trying to address the problems of Papua and hope to see it enjoy the same level of peace, stability and prosperity as the other parts of this nation. I made these points to Papua governor Lukas Enembe when we met last week,” he said in a press release.
Also on Monday, State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Lt. Gen. Marciano Norman accused the OPM of having capitalized on support from international human rights groups.
“The political front of the OPM has for a long time been based in Oxford. We know that. Benny Wenda, its leader, has continued to run his operation from there because he feels that he has support from some figures,” Marciano said at the State Palace.
Marciano said that Benny’s group had switched to getting support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) after no governments formally supported their movement.
“The group has also utilized international NGOs and other groups that support such separatist groups. The group exists wherever these types of NGOs exist. But I don’t think any government has given them support. I believe that the British government as well as Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry have taken the necessary and proportional measures,” Marciano said.
Separately, House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso said that the legislative body was deeply disappointed with the British parliament, whose members supported the OPM in Oxford.
“I think the UK has meddled with Indonesia’s affairs too much. I would like to remind the UK government that they also have issues with Northern Ireland. I don’t think they would be happy if Indonesia hosted an office for the IRA [Irish Republican Army] or encouraged Northern Ireland separatist sentiments. Therefore, please show some respect,” Priyo said.