Questions over Jakarta's push for Australia messenger role

12:40 pm on 1 November 2016

There are questions over the effectiveness of a push by Indonesia to have Australia lean on Pacific countries to not talk about West Papua.

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

Ryamizard Ryacudu Photo: SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP

Indonesia's Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has urged Australia to rebuke Pacific states, in particular Solomon Islands, for raising Papua in global fora.

He urged Canberra to speak to Honiara on the matter because Australia contributes a big aid package in the Solomons.

Pacific leaders at the UN General Assembly expressed concern about human rights abuses in Papua.

Pacific leaders at the UN General Assembly expressed concern about human rights abuses in Papua. Top L to R: Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai; Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare; Tonga Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva. Bottom L to R: Nauru President Baron Waqa; Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine; Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga Photo: UN Photo

A Research Fellow at the Australian National University's State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program, Stewart Firth, said Jakarta has misinterpreted Australia's relationship with Pacific countries.

"These are sovereign states. And in particular in the case of Solomon Islands, Solomon Islands has a right to do that [speak out about West Papua] as a sovereign country, and Australia's not in a very good position to tell them differently", Dr Firth said.

"The one thing that Pacific Island countries really value is their sovereignty.

"Of course there continues to be big bilateral aid, but that doesn't mean you can then determine a country's foreign policy," he said.

Dr Firth said Jakarta's sensitivity is evident in multiple representations on the matter by government ministers.

"What's worrying the Indonesians is the way in which this whole question of membership in the MSG has assumed a kind of symbolic political value to West Papuan independence activists," he said.

"And earlier this year we saw major demonstrations in a number of towns in West Papua, for which people were arrested and so on, because they were demonstrating in favour of West Papuan membership in the MSG."

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