Will this
week’s Timor intervention diminish the heat on the
Government over West Papua? The issue has already plunged relations
between Australia and Indonesia to their lowest point since the 1999
independence referendum.

The bilateral
relationship – and the rule of President Yudhoyono
– could be crippled by another schism with our northern neighbour.

There are terrible events occurring in West Papua – but realpolitik
may give the Government an out.

West Papua is different to East Timor. Indonesia’s incorporation of
West Papua is recognised by the United Nations and the international
community. The former colonial power, the Netherlands, supports
Indonesian sovereignty. The West Papuan independence
movement is not a coherent force. There are not clear leaders of the
type that
emerged from East Timor’s struggles. The territory is hopelessly
divided into a myriad of
language groups.

And that’s just for starters. We are seeing
a terrible demonstration of the difficulties of nation building in East Timor. West Papua is even more lacking
in the human resources and skills needed to build civil society and create
liberal democracy.

Up to 40% of West Papua’s population is the
product of internal migration from other parts of the Indonesia
archipelago. Independence could result in ethnic cleansing – with infinitely greater and more
prolonged violence than we are seeing in East
Timor.

Australia was slow to react when ethnic tensions in the Solomons first
appeared in the late nineties. We mismanaged East Timor in 1999. Civil
society in Papua New
Guinea is breaking
down.

Can we risk the unravelling of Indonesia,
the world’s most populous Islamic nation? Can we risk the creation of a new state
doomed to fail from birth on our doorstep?

East Timor and our Pacific commitments will be enough. Realpolitik will ensure
West Papua remains part of Indonesia
– for now.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12