No place for the ULMWP in the future of the MSG: Indonesia

Indonesia’s culture-based forays into the South Pacific and measured determination to extinguish the simmering heat of Papuan separatism has seemingly paid off.

After years of building rapport, intensive lobbying and projecting itself as the benevolent giant in the region, Jakarta was afforded an opportunity to make its case for the inclusive development of its easternmost provinces and dispel any separatist sentiment.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an important subregional grouping of Pacific island countries, has denied full membership to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

“There is no place for the ULMWP in the future of the MSG,” said Desra Percaya, the Foreign Ministry’s director general of Asia-Pacific and African affairs, at the conclusion of the MSG Extraordinary Summit convened in Honiara, Solomon Islands,last Thursday.                  

The MSG has agreed to hold further discussions at the extraordinary summit on MSG membership guidelines, which are expected to reach a conclusion in September at the next MSG conference in Port Vila, Vanuatu, he said.

On the other side of the fence, members of the ULMWP are living on a prayer and insisting the MSG board has only deferred their bid for full membership.

Desra insisted that the active participation of the Indonesian delegation, including representatives from five of the country’s Melanesian-rooted provinces (Maluku, North Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara, Papua and West Papua), had successfully swayed the opinions of MSG leaders in Honiara to reject the ULMWP’s bid for international recognition and support.

Representation by Melanesians in Indonesia is an important aspect in forging ties with Pacific island countries, especially as the MSG has been used as a platform for Papuan separatist movements for decades.

The MSG comprises Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia. Indonesia obtained associate member status during the last MSG conference, which was held in the Solomon Islands in 2015.

The ULMWP, which campaigns for Papuan independence, currently sits in the MSG as an observer.

Separately, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan also confirmed the MSG’s decision, saying that it was proof that Indonesia was able to convince the forum not to support any bid from separatist groups.

“Now Indonesia’s position in the MSG is extremely favorable,” Luhut told reporters outside his office in Jakarta.

With the ULMWP out of the picture, he said that the door was open for the country to apply for full membership of the MSG very soon, pending the return of the Indonesian delegation from the Solomon Islands.

“I can say this is the result of extraordinary teamwork done holistically,” the former Army general said.

Luhut previously said that as a large country with significant influence in the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia would reap more benefits if it became a full member of the MSG.

Indonesia’s interests are underpinned by the demographic and geographic reality that 11 million people of Melanesian ancestry live in five of the archipelagic country’s eastern provinces.

As a group aiming to achieve cultural solidarity and become a mouthpiece for the Melanesian people, Indonesia’s inclusion in the MSG is a government priority, as Jakarta looks to strengthen its cultural ties and ensure peace and stability in the region.

“Indonesia is now positively considering a bid to become a full member of the organisation,” Desra said.

Earlier in April, Luhut visited a number of MSG member states to secure their support for Indonesia’s bid to fully join the MSG should the opportunity arise in the future.

So far, Fiji has announced its support, while Papua New Guinea would assess Indonesia’s opportunity at the 21st MSG conference next year, which will be hosted by Port Moresby.

On the other hand, Vanuatu is hostile toward Indonesia’s membership in the MSG and openly supports the separatist ULMWP.

As the delegation leader for Indonesia, Desra underscored Indonesia’s commitment to push the MSG to become a progressive organisation through concrete development cooperation and constructive dialogue.

He also submitted a formal invitation from the government to have MSG member states attend the upcoming Bali Democracy Forum later this year