The Jakarta Post
The 20th Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Leaders' Summit, which took place in Honiara, the Solomon Islands, from June 24 to 26, has made its decision on the crucial issue of Papuan representation in the group.
The MSG approved Indonesia's application to become an associate member, as a country that contains five Melanesian provinces, including Papua. On the other hand, the MSG declined the United Liberation Movement for West Papua's (ULMWP) bid to become a full member of the group, and instead granted them with observer status as an NGO that represents the Melanesian diaspora.
Some have commented that the MSG granting Indonesia a higher level of representation than Papua is reflective of the different approaches by MSG leaders to the issue in general.
Some have also assumed that the decision was because of MSG leaders' desire for the issue to be seen from a wider perspective.
First, we should note a shift in the nature of the MSG from a regional organization that 'voices the liberty of all Melanesians against the tentacles of Western colonization' to a regional bloc that promotes and accelerates development in the Pacific region. This change has been evident from the first MSG Free Trade Agreement (MSG-FTA) signed in 1993.
[...] Indonesia will continue to support MSG members to have a stronger and more positive engagement with the wider international community.
The agreement was formed to boost trade cooperation and liberalization in order to improve the economic and social well-being of member nations. Since then, economic cooperation has become the most visible focus of the group.
Since its entrance to the MSG in 2011, Indonesia has called for a stronger economic cooperation within the MSG. Since day one, Indonesia has brought to the table a sense of 'we-feeling', a feeling of confidence that Indonesia and the MSG can and will grow together through the exploration of new opportunities.
Indonesia's membership will not only connect people in MSG member nations with the 11 million Melanesian Indonesians, but it will also provide access to the rest of some 250 million Indonesians as a potential market. It will also be a gateway to enter the larger ASEAN market of 600 million people.
Second, MSG leaders have made it clear that they respect Indonesia's authority regarding issues of Papuan sovereignty. The Agreement Establishing the Melanesian Spearhead Group states that 'the MSG respects the principles of international law governing relations between nations, including the principles of sovereignty, equality of independence of all states and non-interference in the domestic affairs of states.'
This was further reaffirmed in the joint statement by Indonesia and the MSG in 2014. Thus, in line with these noble principles, MSG leaders have affirmed their belief that Indonesian sovereignty over Papua shall not be questioned.
In addressing the issue of Papua and its people, the MSG chooses to engage with Indonesia in a positive and constructive manner.
Furthermore, the MSG is convinced that the best way to improve the lives of all Melanesians in Indonesia ' not just Melanesians in Papua ' is to work closely with the Indonesian government.
In his statement, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill said, 'the ULMWP will be given observer status as a development partner representing the welfare of Melanesian people living abroad.'
Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, further reiterated that the MSG simply could not give the ULMWP the status it desired without compromising a fundamental principal that NGOs cannot have the same status as governments in the organization.
According to the participatory rights and obligations of observers, the ULMWP will have no voting rights or decision-making powers in the MSG.
It is not allowed to do any 'political bargaining' within the MSG. It is also required to respect and protect the interests of the MSG and act in accordance with the spirit of the agreement.
This means that ULMWP is expected to support MSG programs and activities; and Indonesia is expected to improve the well-being of Melanesians in Papua.
Third, associate membership will bring Indonesia closer to the MSG.
As an associate member, Indonesia will play a greater role in decision-making processes of the MSG. A role that Indonesia should not waste, but should instead utilize for the betterment of all its citizens. Indonesia will add value to the organization, broaden relations between member nations, assist in working together to address common challenges and deepen economic ties and development within the framework of the MSG.
With its rich experiences as one of the founding members of ASEAN, Indonesia will surely help to increase the MSG's image as a reputable organization that will earn it more respect in the region.
With its connections and strengths, Indonesia will continue to support MSG members to have a stronger and more positive engagement with the wider international community.
Indonesia is committed to cooperation with MSG partners to address common challenges, including climate changes and natural disasters. Indonesia stood side by side with Vanuatu and assisted with post-Typhoon Pam recovery efforts. It is estimated that Indonesia and the MSG will be able to quadruple the two way trade of US$260 million in the years to come.
Indonesia will also continue to provide technical cooperation for MSG members. Indonesia, so far, has convened no fewer than 130 technical cooperation programs, involving 583 Melanesian participants of MSG. There is much to be done.
MSG leaders now realize that Indonesia is not only the neighbor next door, but also a brother that shares the same hopes and aspirations with the people of the MSG.
The leaders believe that Melanesian Indonesians in the five provinces will be a tremendous asset in boosting regional ties.
With Indonesia's associate membership in the MSG, Indonesia has become an inseparable part of the Melanesian family.
The writer is director of Asia-Pacific and Africa interregional cooperation at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.