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Jakarta Post

Building relations with Pacific Island countries

  • Arto Suryodipuro

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, January 25, 2014   /  01:02 pm

The foreign ministers of Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands, the representative of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), and the high representative of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) visited Jakarta, Jayapura, Papua and Ambon, Maluku, on Jan. 12-15 to meet with various dignitaries and personalities in the country. They came under the auspices of the MSG, although without one of its members, Vanuatu, which pulled out at the last minute.

Their visit was at the invitation of the Indonesian government, but the MSG ministers were also carrying out the mandate from the 19th MSG Summit, held in New Caledonia last June, namely to assess the bid of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation to become a member of the MSG.

At the end of the visit, the MSG and Indonesian foreign ministers agreed on a nine-paragraph joint statement, which serves as a road map to promote Indonesia-MSG relations. One paragraph stipulates the respect for each others'€™ '€œsovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and ['€¦] non-interference in each other'€™s internal affairs'€.

The rest of the joint statement is equally important, however. It identifies fields for cooperation, such as food security, education, democracy and good governance, natural disasters and climate-change mitigation, environmental preservation, peacekeeping and policing, social and cultural issues, and other economic and technical cooperations. It promotes contacts and exchange visits between ministers, officials, members of parliament, business representatives, scholars and intellectuals, civil society, youths and athletes.

It provides for the further intensification of Indonesia'€™s participation in the MSG with the involvement, as appropriate, of relevant stakeholders in Indonesia, including Indonesians with a Melanesian cultural background and heritage.

The visit, the joint statement and Indonesia'€™s diplomacy with the MSG are consistent with Indonesia'€™s foreign policy, and should be understood in the broader context of Indonesia'€™s diplomacy with Pacific Island countries.

One of the precepts of Indonesian diplomacy is the country'€™s geographic location and characteristics: an archipelago bridging the Indian and Pacific oceans '€” spanning Southeast Asia and the South Pacific '€” sharing maritime borders with nine countries and land borders with another two, and sharing ethnicity and cultural heritage with all its neighbors.

As a matter of principle, Indonesia has been working to build good relationships with all its neighbors and to maintain a stable, prosperous and secure regional neighborhood. These are crucial for Indonesia'€™s own security, development and prosperity.

While Indonesia'€™s relations with other Southeast Asian nations, PNG and Australia have been long-running, a conscious and focused policy of mutual understanding and a constructive relationship with the Pacific Island countries is a more recent development, taking shape only in the early 2000s. It has a number of dimensions.

The first is closer engagement with Pacific Island countries. Indonesia now has bilateral relations with all Pacific Island countries (most recently with Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu). On the institutional side, Indonesia obtained post-forum dialogue status with the Pacific Islands Forum in 2001 and established the South-West Pacific Dialogue in 2002 with the Philippines, PNG, Timor Leste, Australia and New Zealand, as a way to bridge Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

In 2009, on the sidelines of the World Ocean Conference, Indonesia established the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI) with Malaysia, the Philippines, PNG and the Solomon Islands. In 2011, Indonesia obtained observer status with the MSG.

The other dimension is the content of the policy, namely the promotion of economic ties and development cooperation, focusing on areas of common challenges and mutual interests.

These include trade, investment and tourism; the sharing of experience and know-how in disaster management, building on the similar challenges faced by island countries; strengthening sociocultural relations by building on the similar cultural backgrounds and heritage shared by those in Indonesia'€™s eastern provinces and the Pacific Island countries, and exchanging views and policies on how to develop connectivity between remote islands and economic centers.

A developing country itself, Indonesia has an interest in providing assistance wherever possible, such as is considered desirable by the Pacific Island countries. Indonesia is also working with other countries to aid them in capacity building. On a broader level, Indonesia can facilitate and bridge these countries with Asian-based free trade arrangements.

Finally, Indonesia'€™s policy is to provide information and address the concerns among Pacific Island countries about developments in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Some of the concerns come from the Melanesian countries, stemming from Melanesian solidarity. In fact, the MSG was established in 1987 as a solidarity group '€” such as in the case of New Caledonia '€” and only in 2007 did it morph into a more comprehensive regional organization with broader aspirations related to trade, culture, traditions and values, economic and technical cooperation, and overall economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security.

In conclusion, Indonesia'€™s policy in its South Pacific neighborhood is aimed at broadening and deepening relationships, to cover as many strands as possible to bind the countries in a mutually beneficial relationship. The expected outcome, like in other parts of Indonesia'€™s neighborhood, is to secure a stable, prosperous and friendly South Pacific region; underlining the fact that Indonesia is as much a Pacific country as an Asian one.

The writer is director of intraregional cooperation in Asia Pacific and Africa at Indonesia'€™s Foreign Ministry. The views expressed here are his own.

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