Australia, Indonesia and Oceania: Tensions in our international neighbourhood

Australia is watching on as decades-long simmering tensions in the Indonesian province of West Papua boil over (Image Source: Bagus Indahono/EPA)

By Anna Day | @anna_day_

Our closest neighbours have been making a fair few headlines in Australia lately.

Given their geographical and political importance to Australia, On The Record has a quick round-up to get you up to speed on all things beyond the Torres Strait.

Tensions are heating up in West Papua

For more than two weeks, a series of mass and sometimes violent protests have been underway in Indonesia’s western-most province of West Papua.

Thousands of Papuans have taken to the streets, protesting against discrimination and marginalization by the Indonesian government, including West Papua’s demographic change resulting from five decades of government-sponsored transmigration of Indonesian settlers to the province.

Angry demonstrators have torched parliament and police buildings in West Papua’s capital, Jayapura.

The Guardian reports six hundred extra paramilitary troops have been deployed to the city.

At least six people have been killed as the region’s decades-long separatist tensions boil over.

Exiled West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda told SBS News that the situation in West Papau was “very similar” to East Timor’s violent struggle for independence 20 years ago.

In 1999 Indonesia agreed to a vote that would determine East Timor’s autonomy.

The vote was organised by the UN and almost 80 per cent of voting East Timorese supported complete independence from Indonesia.

The result enraged pro-Indonesian militia who, backed by Indonesian troops, ran wild through East Timor in a violent outburst of revenge and destruction that killed 2000 people and left another 250 thousand homeless.

The violent chaos only ended with the arrival of an UN-sanctioned peacekeeping force that largely consisted of Australian troops.

Mr Wenda said to avoid the “next East Timor” Prime Minister Scott Morrison should condemn Indonesia’s crackdown on pro-independence protesters.

“I hope the Australian Prime Minister will make a statement about the current situation. We need Australia to come out and make a public statement about the humanitarian crisis in West Papua,” Mr Wenda told SBS News.

This seems unlikely however due to the Lombok treaty —an agreement between Australia and Indonesia —which officially acknowledges Indonesia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including the Papua provinces.

ad2.jpgAustralian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Image source: Lukas Coch/AAP)

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is moving to a yet-to-be-built island

However, it seems that unrest in West Papua is not the only thing on the Indonesian government’s plate.

In the midst of protests, President Joko Widodo has announced that Indonesia will move its capital city of Jakarta to a yet-to-be built city on the island of Borneo.

It’s hoped the move, which will see 1.5 million public servants relocated, will relieve Jakarta’s overcrowding and pollution issues.

ad3(Image source: Alamy Stock Photo)

Over the last few months, air quality in Jakarta has plummeted to conditions worse than notoriously smoggy cities like Delhi and Beijing.

The island of Java, where Jakarta is located, is home to 60 per cent of Indonesia’s entire population and is under increasing infrastructure strains.

According to The Guardian, parts of north Jakarta are sinking at an estimated 25cm a year.

Pumping drinking water from shallow wells and an eruption of real estate development like apartments and shopping malls is making Jakarta increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic floods.

ad4.jpgThe leaders of Kiribati, Cook Islands, Tonga and Australia at the Pacific Islands Forum (Image source: Mick Tsikas/EPA)

PM Morrison has angered the Pacific nations

The situation in West Papua is not the only time that vulnerable groups in our international neighborhood have felt let down by the Australian government lately.

In the last month, advocates and Pacific Island leaders have been expressing their outrage over Australia’s perceived “arrogance” at the Pacific Island Summit in Tuvalu.

The talks were dominated by climate change policies, as for low-lying island nations rising sea levels are a matter of survival.

Pacific Island nations condemned Scott Morrison for back treading on important climate change targets with Fijian president Frank Bainimarama labelling his attitude as “very insulting and condescending”.

Former president of Kiribati and well-known advocate for Pacific nations Anote Tong said the forum should consider possible sanctions and is calling for Australia’s membership to be reviewed.

“What is the relevance of Australia’s ongoing protestations in the forum?” Mr Tong said.

“How can you justify being part of a family and part of a group which you’re trying to destroy?”

Labor senator Penny Wong also condemned the Prime Minister’s approach.

“[Morrison’s] arrogance has done great damage to our relationships and Australia’s standing in the region,” Senator Wong said.

“He’s undermined the Pacific step-up and alienated our friends.

“It’s no way to treat our neighbours. At a time when we need closer engagement with our region, Australia’s PM has diminished our influence.”

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