Sunday, December 10, 2017

APNewsBreak: Files show birth of Papua independence struggle

APNewsBreak: Files show birth of Papua independence struggle

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Prominent Papuans pleaded for the U.S. to give them money and arms in the mid-1960s to fight Indonesia’s colonization of their vast remote territory, according to recently declassified American files that show the birth of an independence struggle that endures half a century later.
The documents add to the historical evidence of deep Papuan grievances against Indonesia at a time when clashes between rebels and Indonesian security forces have flared in the impoverished region and Papuan nationalists have succeeded in drawing more attention to their cause at the United Nations. Indonesia’s defense minister said last week that activists who attended a recent pro-Papuan independence meeting in Vanuatu should be arrested on return to Indonesia.
The files are among the thousands of pages of cables between the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from the 1960s that were declassified earlier this year. The 37 boxes of telegrams are stored at the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland and researchers are working on making them available online.

Papua, which makes up the western half of the giant island of New Guinea, remained in Dutch hands after Indonesia shook off colonial rule at the end of World War II. Many Indonesians saw their government’s campaign in the early 1960s to take Papua from the Dutch as the final victory in their struggle for independence. But to Papuans, with a Melanesian culture and history distinct from Southeast Asia, Indonesia was a hostile colonizer.
The rest of the world looked away as a rigged vote of a little more than 1,000 hand-picked and closely managed Papuans cemented Indonesia’s control in 1969. The Netherlands, which before annexation was preparing Papua for self-rule, did not object. The U.S., which in 1967 helped American mining company Freeport secure rights to exploit rich copper and gold deposits in Papua, did not want to upset a status quo favorable for U.S. business or destabilize Indonesia’s pro-U.S. government.
An April 1966 cable from the State Department recorded the “eloquence and intensity” of Markus Kaisiepo, an exiled Papuan leader, who spoke with a senior U.S. official about the “desperate plight of the Papua people under Indonesian rule.”

Kaisiepo said Papuans were determined to have independence but were completely without financial resources or the military equipment needed to “rise against the Indonesian oppressors.”
Kaisiepo, whose son would also become a prominent advocate for Papuan independence, asked if the U.S. “could provide money and arms secretly to assist him and his movement.” He was rebuffed, as was another Papuan leader, Nicolaas Jouwe, who made a similar request to the U.S. in September 1965 and also to Australia.
The documents also show how officials looted the region after Indonesia annexed it in 1962 and brought about a collapse in living standards, stoking anger that boiled over into outright rebellion. But the biggest source of resentment was Indonesia’s reluctance to honor its U.N.-supervised and U.S.-brokered treaty with the Netherlands, which mandated that Papuans would decide in a plebiscite whether to stay with Indonesia or become self-ruled.
After U.N. troops left Papua, Indonesians systematically looted public buildings and sent the booty to Jakarta, the April 1966 cable said, citing Kaisiepo. Hospitals built by the Dutch were stripped of beds, X-ray equipment and medicines, desks were taken from schools and soldiers stole anything “that took their fancy” from private homes.

Other cables citing American missionaries working in Papua described widespread food shortages, and how Indonesian officials bought up all consumer goods and shipped them out of Papua for a profit. When shipments of goods and food arrived at ports, Indonesian troops would commandeer them.
Victor Yeimo, chairman of the pro-Independence West Papuan National Committee, said the documents are “very important” because they provide evidence of crimes against Papuans by the Indonesian military and the U.S. role in denying self-determination. Administratively, Indonesia divides the region into two provinces, Papua and West Papua, but Papuans refer to both as West Papua.
“Information gained from these documents shows the world and today’s generation that the U.S. and Indonesia have been hand-in-hand in hiding the truth all along. The economic and political interests of the U.S. played a big role in West Papua’s colonization,” Yeimo said. “We, West Papuans, have been butchered since Indonesia first entered our land and up to now. And we have never seen any justice.”
Papuans were not without supporters in the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta but their views did not prevail. In August 1965, the embassy’s political officer Edward E. Masters recommended the department leak word of violent uprisings against Indonesia’s rule in Papua to the world press. Without the glare of publicity, Papuans would suffer “complete colonial subjugation” by Indonesia, he wrote in a prescient cable.
Citing the U.S. role in negotiating the 1962 treaty between the Netherlands and Indonesia, Masters wrote “we would appear to have a special responsibility to see that the terms of that treaty concerning ascertainment of the true wishes of the Papuan people are respected.”
Another cable written by Ambassador Marshall Green, however, described Papuans as “stone-age” people. Their “horizons are strictly limited,” it said, and they weren’t capable of deciding their own future, contradicting other assessments by the embassy of Papuans’ widespread desire for independence.
Word of violent uprisings, which began about March 1965, began trickling out of Papua as American missionaries who were working in the region visited Jakarta and embassy officials tapped sources in the Indonesian military for information.
In June 1965, rebels launched a full-scale attack on a government post in the town of Wamena that killed at least a dozen Indonesian soldiers and an unknown number of Papuans.
“No figure on the number of Papuans killed is available but one informant described it as a ‘slaughter,’ since almost the only weapons in the hands of the highland Papuans were knives and bows and arrows,” said a cable sent two months later.
The same document reported that rebels overran most of Manokwari, a major coastal town, in early August and held it for a week until beaten back by Indonesian soldiers.
A massacre by Indonesian forces the previous month may have been a catalyst for that attack.
A Dutch missionary told U.S. officials that rebels had shot three soldiers raising a flag in a valley near Manokwari in late July.
“Indo reaction was brutal,” said a cable transmitted in September 1965. “Soldiers next day sprayed bullets at any Papuan in sight and many innocent travelers on roads gunned down. Bitterness thus created not easily healed.”
By early 1967, there were persistent rumors within Indonesia and abroad that 1,000 to 2,000 Papuans had been killed by an Indonesian air force bombing campaign.


2) Queensland entrepreneurs aim to 'turn everyday Aussies into everyday Elon Musks' with new venture

Jakarta, Jubi – Martinus Beanal, a Papuan worker has disappeared since 7 November in the midst of alleged escalated armed clashes in Utikini village, Tembagapura District, Mimika Regency, Papua Province. The Police have announced that he was dead and buried by his family, a claim that has been refuted by his family. His whereabouts are still unknown.
Martinus Beanal, a worker in Pangan Sari Utama company, a food supplier firm of Freeport McMoran company was missing on his way home in the morning of 7 November. He departed from the company’s compound in Tembagapura district to his village in Opitawak village in Mimika Regency, Papua Province at 5am. According to his family, Martinus said that he was stopped by armed forces that forbid him to pass because the military and police operations in the area. Because of the blockade, Martinus went through an alternative route to his village that should take him around 2 to 3 hours walking. Around 6.30am he called his family members informing that he was resting near a telecommunication tower. He told his family members that he was unsure about which route to take because the road had intersections and they had some tracks of military shoes along the way. The call was cut off when one of his family heard a series of gunshot in the telephone.
Subsequently, Martinus’ wife called some villagers from Opitawak village to find and bring Martinus back to the village. However, the villagers decided to run back to their village after hearing gunshots around 7am in the area near Martinus’ last known location. After contacting Martinus’ wife and family, at 8am the villagers decided to go to the area near the telecommunication tower, but were stopped by the armed forces and told to turn 
According to the police and military force, there has been ongoing armed conflict in Tembagapura district, Mimika around Freeport Indonesia company compound since August 2017. The police and military forces operated in the area claimed that they were fighting an armed pro-Papuan independence group (Free Papua Movement or OPM). One police officer was killed and several civilians were injured on 21 October. However, Papuan human rights groups could not confirm that there were armed clashes between the security forces and the armed pro-independence group in Tembagapura area. On 10 November, a police spokesperson announced to the media that Martinus was found dead on 9 November in an area that had been occupied by armed pro-independence group and subsequently buried by his family, a claim that had been refuted by his family.
Therefore, Amnesty International, through their official letter no UA: 262/17 Index: ASA 21/7544/2017 Issue Date: 5 December 2017 called civil society to send letter to authorities to call on the authorities to reveal Martinus Beanal’s fate and whereabouts and ensure his safety; call on the authorities to independently investigate the circumstances of Martinus’ disappearance and ensure that his family are provided with accurate information about the outcome of this investigation.
The letter of appeal should be sent to The Head of National Police; Head of Papua Police Force; Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM); and also diplomatic representatives of respecting countries, before January  16.
Enforced disappearance is a serious human rights violation and a crime under international law which violates the rights of the persons who were disappeared and of their loved ones. The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992, provides that an investigation “should be conducted for as long as the fate of the victim of enforced disappearance remains unclarified” (Article 13(6)). It also states that “enforced disappearance shall be considered a continuing offence as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate and the whereabouts of persons who have disappeared and these facts remain unclarified” (Article 17(1)).
The Indonesian military has a long history of perpetrating enforced disappearances. Yet the Indonesian government has done little to establish the fate and whereabouts of those who were disappeared or went “missing” during the rule of Suharto or the subsequent political reform period (from 1998), including during the conflicts in Timor-Leste and Aceh. According to its 2012 Annual report, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) holds information on 162 outstanding cases of disappearances in Indonesia, while there are a further 428 outstanding cases in Timor-Leste which mostly occurred during the period of Indonesian occupation (1975-1999). Further, the Indonesian government has yet to accept a request from the WGEID, pending since 2006, to visit the country.(*)

2) Queensland entrepreneurs aim to 'turn everyday Aussies into everyday Elon Musks' with new venture

They met only three weeks ago, but in that short space of time three Queensland entrepreneurs have already tried and tested their invention that turns e-waste into a source of electricity for remote disadvantaged communities.
It's called PowerWells and was inspired by Tesla's Powerwall home battery, except this local initiative is a smaller version that is much cheaper, can be assembled quickly and consists entirely of e-waste that would otherwise go into landfill.
Nick Kamols, Brad Claire and Amatus Douw met in mid-November at a Logan Social Enterprise StartUp Weekend, where entrepreneurs and inventors come together and are issued with a challenge, which they have to create a solution for and present it to a panel of judges.
Mr Kamols worked as a town planner, while Mr Claire possessed a background in electronics and worked at Substation 33, a Logan recycling facility that collects electronic waste from companies and finds a way to reuse it.
However, it was Mr Douw who provided the main inspiration for the invention. He comes from West Papua in Indonesia and told his teammates that 379 local communities in his homeland don't have access to electricity, but use mobile phones heavily.

As a result, they will often spend an entire day walking and hitchhiking to the nearest city just to charge their phones, which they also use for light at night

Through Mr Claire's work at Substation 33, he sourced old laptops whose batteries had died.
They could still be reused because most of the time only one of the six cells within the battery had failed, meaning the one depleted cell could be replaced and the entire battery salvaged.

A total of 25 lithium-ion laptop batteries were combined to create one big battery, which was then connected to a solar panel.
Mr Claire said the recovered laptop batteries could then be used for an extra 10 to 20 years instead of being tossed into landfill.

He added that the resulting PowerWell could charge an iPhone and small flashlight more than 100 times and charge up to 50 devices at once.
By using recycled e-waste, a PowerWell costs about $100 to construct instead of the $2000 it would cost if new parts were used.
Mr Kamols travelled to Indonesia with a friend of Mr Douw, Franz, to test the PowerWell. Franz acted as a translator and guide on the trip, helping to source local e-waste to construct a new PowerWell in Indonesia and conduct a successful test in a remote village.
The three entrepreneurs will launch a fundraising campaign next week, encouraging companies to donate their e-waste to the PowerWells initiative and asking everyday Australians to donate to their cause this festive season.
“We’re not going from zero to 100, we’re just going zero to one, which enables economic growth and educational opportunities," Mr Kamols said.
"We hope to turn everyday Aussies into everyday Elon Musks.
"This holiday season people can channel their inner Elon and give a PowerWell to a remote village in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands.”

Wamena, Jubi – Ten bridges connecting Wamena-Kenyam are confirmed to be completed by the end of 2017. The bridge is part of 35 bridges to be built along the trans-Papua Wamena road, from Jayawijaya to Kenyam, Nduga.
“For the Papua-Wamena-Kenyam Trans Road itself has been translucent, but there are some great or high slopes need to be lowered again,” said Head of the National Road Implementation Work Unit (PJN) IV Papua, Togap Harianto Manik,
According to Harianto, there are currently two multi-year contracts of 35 bridges. Only 10 bridges can only be completed this year, while another 25 bridges will be completed by 2018 to 2019.
A total of 10 bridges are under construction using iron frames with varying lengths and pass through the rushing river pathways and dangerous for the people who pass.
“So there is a span or length of 100, 80 and 60 which may be quite heavy currents so it is impossible to pass by vehicle,” Harianto explained.
Not only Wamena to Kenyam, the implementation of national road in Puncak Jaya area is also targeted for completion in 2019, including roads from Wamena to Sugapa in Intan Jaya Regency.
Head of Work Unit (Satker) for the implementation of the national road of Puncak Jaya region, La Hanafi said that access to Puncak Jaya through six districts passed by Jayawijaya, Tolikara, Puncak, Puncak Jaya, Yahukimo and Lanny Jaya is targeted in the Trans Papua road program.
“Starting from Wamena to Enarotali border in Sugapa can be done in 2019,” said Hanafi.
In addition, PJN V Puncak Jaya is also working on roads starting from Dekai in Yahukimo Regency towards Kenyam, Nduga Regency, as part of trans-Papua road from Satker Jayawijaya Wamena to Kenyam.
“We ask for local governments and communities support for a non-technical way, because we are technically ready to implement it,” he said.
According to him, the total has reached 78 percent, and those are with several directions, such as Sugapa to Bioga, Bioga to Sugapa, Bioga-Illaga, Illaga to Bioga. (


Port Vila, Jubi – The newly elected leadership of United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) extend their gratitude to the people of Vanuatu following their first meeting in the country few days ago.
In their letter of statement received by Jubi, Wednesday (December 12) Benny Wenda, the elected chairman of ULMWP feel grateful for Vanuatu welcoming their celebration of Independence Day.
“On behalf of the newly elected leadership of ULMWP, the people of West Papua, the Papuan delegates who have travelled to be here today and our solidarity groups around the world, I would like to thank the people of Vanuatu for allowing us to celebrate our independence day here with you,” he said.

On December 1st 56 years ago, he said, West Papuans declared their independence from the Dutch and raised the Morning Star flag for the first time.
“But after all this time, we still do not have our freedom. (However) Wwe are so happy to stand with you here on your sacred ground to celebrate our national day as well as the opening of our ULMWP Head Office, thanks to the generosity and solidarity from the Vanuatu government and its people,” Wenda said.
He mentioned that the people of Vanuatu have made history for West Papua for all supports and solidarity they have been given.
“As you are aware, this journey has been a long and difficult. Quite often, we as Papuans feel that it is only us against the world. But when Vanuatu says “We will stand beside you”, it gives us hope for the future and that one day we will invite you to celebrate with us in West Papua our independence.”
Wenda admit that the challenge ahead of for them is huge, but through the unity on the in West Papua and abroad, they can achieve the goals.
“Over the last few days we have spent so many hours discussing, sharing and planning for the future of our movement. We are more united than ever. We commit to listening carefully and being accountable to our people on the ground in West Papua. It is from the people of West Papua – and all our solidarity groups around the world – that we gain our strength.”
Under our new leadership structure, Wenda said ULMWP commits to a strong and unified future as needed for the liberation of West Papua people.
He also said that the movement for liberation of West Papua is growing in strength all the time because the support they get from the Pacific.
“It is the support of our Pacific neighbours that has helped to drive the momentum we now have – and allowed nations around the world to start to support us on the international stage. Without the support of the Pacific, it would have been difficult to develop this growing international solidarity. Your continued support is essential for our cause,” he said.
On the day of global flag raising of Morning Star, Wenda paid tribute to his brothers and sisters in West Papua who will do the same (raised the banned flag—ed) , “while under threat of violence, arrest and imprisonment.”
He paid tribute to their courage and give promise to do their utmost to ensure the success of the struggle, “so that one day we will raise this flag in a free and independent West Papua,” he said.(Zely A)

Photos-International Human Rights Day Sydney

International Human Rights Day Sydney

A large number of solidarity groups including supporters of West Papua joined in solidarity with the "Unite with Aboriginal Peoples' Defence of Human Rights March" in Sydney on International Human Rights Day. After speeches at Town Hall Square supporters heading through the city to Circular Quay, stopping at various intersections to watch traditional Aboriginal dancing  and speeches.  The city echoed to chants of "Always was always will be Aboriginal land", "Refugees are welcome here" and "Free West Papua" and "Free Palestine". An inspiring event.

The theme of this years Human Rights Day is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both which were adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 16th of December, 1966.  


Saturday, December 9, 2017

1) Papua to enter e-commerce era amid economic progress

2) Photos and thanks after Global Flag Raising for West Papua!

3) Russia vying for power in the South Pacific

1) Papua to enter e-commerce era amid economic progress

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - E-commerce is developing in Indonesia`s big cities, but some isolated areas in its eastern regions, such as Papua, have yet to enjoy the benefits of the online trade facility due to an inadequate telecommunication system.

However, the country`s eastern regions, which are still isolated and yet to be fully connected through fiber optic cables, will be able to enjoy online trade when support facilities for the Palapa Ring are installed at the designated locations.

Palapa Ring is a national fiber optic network construction project that will cover as many as 34 provinces and 440 cities and districts across Indonesia, with a total sea cable length of 35,280 kilometers, and a mainland cable length reaching as much as 21,807 kilometers.

To this end, the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Papua (HIPMI Papua) has reminded that Papua will soon enter the e-commerce era after supporting facilities for the Palapa Ring project become operational. 

The Palapa Ring project is being developed and is expected to be completed by 2018.

"With the completion of the Palapa Ring project, I think, Papua will change. Development in the e-commerce sector will be boosted. Our entrepreneur friends should thus be alert and prepared to garner benefits from this condition," Chairman of the Executive Board of HIPMI Papua Dasril Sahari stated in Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, on Wednesday (Dec 6).

Sahari claimed to be involved in the development of the Palapa Ring project, noting that the central government has determined the Palapa Ring placement points across the provinces of Papua and West Papua.

According to Sahari, all districts and cities in these two provinces will have internet access similar to other regions in Indonesia in 2018.

"Some 61 points in Papua and West Papua will be included in the Palapa Ring project. Access to internet will be available in Paniai in Lake Tigi in 2018," he remarked.

Sahari reminded that all parties, especially entrepreneurs, must prepare themselves to face the coming era of e-commerce in Papua.

"This is a challenge for our friends, and we should utilize this momentum as young businesspersons in Papua. If we do not make a start from now on, then we will be left behind by big entrepreneurs entering Papua," he stated.

He believed that despite the absence of territorial borders in this era, local entrepreneurs have their own strengths that must be utilized optimally. 

"We have an advantage here, as we are aware of the culture in Papua, and this should be utilized," Sahari remarked.

Moreover, the online trading system, or e-commerce, has grown rapidly in recent years in the country, as it offers special services to consumers to shop or order goods through online media.

Based on data at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the value of online trading transactions, or e-commerce, reaches Rp200 trillion. Currently, internet users in Indonesia account for 93.4 million people and users of smartphones total 71 million, who are all potential market for online businesses.

In fact, the volume of e-commerce transactions in Indonesia is still relatively small, but the government is taking anticipatory steps in the face of growth in the e-commerce industry, as it is developing as a global trade model.

Indonesia`s e-commerce transactions still account for about one to two percent of the retail transactions, or much lower than the global average of eight percent. However, it is forecast that e-commerce transactions in Indonesia will increase drastically from US$12 billion in 2014 to some $24.6 billion this year.

Hence, the HIPMI views the e-commerce industry as a business sector that holds good future prospects in Papua. It will grow in line with the regional economic progress and growth.

Although Papua`s economy in the third quarter of this year is slower than the previous quarter, Papua, Indonesia`s easternmost province, is expected to record strong economic growth next year. 

In the third quarter of 2017, Papua`s economy grew 3.40 percent than the same period last year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) Office in Papua Province.

The third-quarter growth was supported by all business fields, Eko Mardiana, chief of the BPS office, noted in Jayapura, Papua, on Monday (Dec. 4).

"The third-quarter growth is slower than that of the previous quarter, recorded at 4.88 percent, due to a slowdown in the mining and extracting sectors, which are the biggest contributors to Papua`s economy," he explained.

Mardiana said the electricity and gas sector had contributed 8.14 percent to Papua`s economic growth, followed by the information and communication sector, at 6.92 percent, and waste treatment and recycling, at 6.77 percent.

In the meantime, the representative office of Bank Indonesia for Papua has forecast that the province`s economy would grow stronger in 2018, dominated by the mining sector. 

"In aggregate terms, Papua`s economy could grow at around five to 5.4 percent in 2018 year-on-year (yoy), up from an estimated four to 4.4 percent in 2017," Joko Supratikto, head of the Bank Indonesia representative office for Papua, stated in Jayapura on Thursday (Dec 7). 

Increase in the sales of minerals is an indicator of optimism for players in the mining sector in Papua in 2018, Supratikto remarked. 

In the first quarter of 2018, Papua`s economy is forecast to reach 5.3-5.7 percent yoy, higher than that in the last quarter of 2017. The economy of the province is expected to grow 5.2-5.6 percent yoy in the last quarter of 2017. 

The mining sector is expected to remain the key driver of economic growth in Papua in 2018.

Editor: Heru Purwanto

2) Photos and thanks after Global Flag Raising for West Papua!

DECEMBER 8, 2017
The Free West Papua Campaign would like to thank everyone who attended the historic Global Flag Raising for West Papua on 1st December. This year we received over 250 photos from over 30 countries around the world, making it the biggest global day of action for West Papua so far!
From the cold mountains of the Alps, to the sun-kissed beaches of Hawai’i, from the teetering chasms of the Grand Canyon, to the bustling streets of Abuja; the Morning Star flag of the West Papuan people was raised everywhere in solidarity with their struggle for freedom.
It is extremely poignant that the West Papuan flag was raised so freely aboard, when West Papuan people raising it in their own country can get 15 year jail sentences for it. It is this very flag which represents their right to freedom and independence, first raised with hope exactly 56 years ago on 1st December 1961.
It means everything for the people of West Papua to see their flag raised freely in solidarity with their struggle by people around the world as it is this exact freedom they are so expressly denied. Not only was the West Papuan flag raised by hundreds of individuals in dozens of countries , it was raised by dedicated support groups, leaders and even local councils and City Halls.
Commenting on the significance of the incredible flag raisings this year, West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, who was recently elected as the Chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), stated,
“I would like to sincerely thank everyone around the world who raised the flag of the West Papuan people on December 1st in solidarity with our freedom struggle. When you raise our flag, you are not just raising a star into the air but you are raising awareness, raising support and above all raising the hope of a nation and a people who have long felt forgotten by the rest of the world. You give strength to my people and give hope to our freedom struggle. Knowing that we have not been forgotten but are supported by people across the globe means everything to us and we are deeply inspired and moved by your true expressions of humanity and compassion. You are the voices of the West Papuan people in your countries and your actions will be recorded in our history. Wa wa wa”.
We would like to join Benny Wenda in thanking YOU, all of you, all around the world for taking the time and effort, however great or small to raise the West Papuan flag on 1st December and every day before or since. From minors to MPs, the efforts of everyone is so deeply appreciated and is making a big impact in terms of crucial awareness, support and networking for West Papua.
We will be announcing the winners of the prize for the best photos we feel were taken very soon. This year there were three categories; 1. Most dramatic 2. Most artistic and 3. Most politically significant.
Until then, please keep up the amazing work and keep spreading the message! We wold love to hear form you about helping West Papua in the future so if you have any ideas, questions or info, please do not hesitate to Contact Us. Take a look at the incredible photos from the Global Flag Raising for West Papua 2017 below!


3) Russia vying for power in the South Pacific

AT the APEC Ministerial Meeting in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang earlier this month, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met with some of his regional counterparts from the region.
In doing so he highlighted the significance and nature of Russia’s role in the Asia-Pacific, and in the South Pacific in particular. His meeting with Papua New Guinea’s Rimbink Pato, for example, highlighted the importance of bilateral relations and cooperation on regional security, humanitarian issues, education, and fisheries.
At first glance, the South Pacific may not appear to be the most strategically or economically pivotal territory for Russia. The region is a long way from Russia and already has neighbouring Australia as a traditional protector and donor to the many small developing states and nations.
However, since 2012 Russia has organized a raft of meetings and talks with senior representatives of small island states of the South Pacific, including Vanuatu, Tonga, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Fiji, Cook Islands, Samoa, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. The last meeting happened during the 72nd UN General Assembly in September when the participants reaffirmed their intention to develop cooperation between Russia and its partners in the South Pacific on a broad range of issues of mutual interest.
Moscow knows and publicly acknowledges that the bi-polar world of the Cold War is over, and the new reality of a multi-polar world has come. Due to the country’s territorial and geographical location, Russia tries to play the role of a Eurasian power – dividing its attention between East and West.
The South Pacific is therefore part of Russia’s East-oriented strategic and political ambitions. The region is also viewed as a platform to enhance dialogue and partnerships within APEC, EAS, ASEAN and other organizations.
An article published by Vladimir Putin on the eve of APEC 2017 portrays Russia as a major Eurasian power that has a stake in the successful future of the Asia-Pacific region. Even though the South Pacific is not publicized as a priority in Russia’s foreign policy, it has been repeatedly mentioned in foreign policy documents which emphasize that Russia will continue to maintain regular ties with states in the South Pacific.
Despite the political rhetoric, talks, and use of diplomatically vague expressions such as ‘the broad range of issues of mutual interests and fostering friendship and cultural ties,’ Russia is taking steps to spread its influence over the South Pacific.
This was ramped up with Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Fiji in 2012. The trip could be characterized as checkbook diplomacy, with Russia announcing large aid donations to Tuvalu, Kiribati and Vanuatu in return for recognition of the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Back in Russia, the public response to the aid donations ranged from understanding the importance of the strategic partnership with the South Pacific to anger and frustration that Russia was spending time, money, and energy building relations with apparently unimportant partners.
So what, exactly, is Russia’s real interest in the South Pacific? This is not a question with clear answers.
It could be that Russia’s foreign policy retains some of its Cold War stridency, despite the peaceful, consistent, and predictably-diplomatic official declarations. The country’s moves in the region might also be an attempt to restore the former Soviet Union’s legacy, laying out a network of influence available for future contingencies. There is a saying in Russia that ‘old stories happen with new people’. If this is right, then one might argue that Russia is still using well established but evolving methods inherited from the Soviet Union’s foreign policy.
George Kennan, in his famous Long Telegram of 1946, was able to foresee this feature of the Soviet foreign policy in weakening of power and influence and contacts of advanced Western nations over small nations in order to create a vacuum which will be favorable for Communist-Soviet penetration. While Russia posing a direct challenge to developed regional powers would be dangerous and unproductive, targeting small developing countries and nations offers greater opportunities to exert influence.
On the other hand, the growing role of China and its broad financial aid to a wide range of developing countries is also acknowledged. Objectively, Russia cannot compete with Chinese economic power and resources, yet Russia’s willingness to maintain diplomatic ties and keep its political influence in the region goes along with Chinese expansion.
In the long term, problems might arise when these smaller nations adapt to the situation, skillfully taking advantage of competing major or regional powers vying for influence. Russia experienced this with North Korea, with the initial Soviet support and mentoring of the young communist regime now seeming to account for little in Pyongyang.
The small, developing nations of the South Pacific might be willing to accept generous yet mysterious Russian donations. However, all those engaged in Pacific affairs should seek to understand what kind of strings Russia might be tying in the region, and what consequences might follow.
This article was originally from Policy Forum – Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis, opinion, debate, and discussion.