Leaders of Melanesian Spearhead Group countries have referred a West Papuan application for full membership in the group to its secretariat for processing.
The leaders had their summit this week in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby.
A long-pending application for Spearhead membership by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua is to be processed under new guidelines for membership.
Johnny Blades has more.
JOHNNY BLADES: So the MSG – whose five full members are Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s FLNKS Kanaks Movement – has been wrestling with this matter of full West Papuan membership for a number of years. Shortly after forming, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua was granted observer status in the MSG in 2015. But since then, they’ve been lobbying strongly for more representation at the MSG, this subregional body, arguing it is the best first avenue for addressing their long-running grievances with Indonesian rule. Yet there’s been an impasse within the group over whether to grant the West Papuans that full membership. You’ve got Vanuatu and Solomon Islands and the FLNKS very much supportive of it, or who in recent years have indicated their support, whereas PNG and Fiji have basically opposed it. It seems like they are more toeing the line of Indonesia who of course is an associate member in the group. Indonesia has opposed the Liberation Movement taking such a part in the MSG.
DON WISEMAN: And this is why the leaders back in 2016 requested the MSG secretariat to clarify guidelines around membership?
JB: Yes, it was found that the guidelines on membership weren’t clear – or at least that different interpretations on what they meant were creating a problem around this West Papua matter. So a special committee was established to develop new guidelines. This has been done, and after almost two years, the MSG leaders this week formally approved the criteria. This is the criteria under which the United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s bid for membership is to be processed by the MSG secretariat.
DW: So what does this mean for the West Papuan membership application?
JB: Well, in the short term, more waiting. It’s unclear whether this is just another way to defer the decision for an indefinite period. And is it a technical decision to be made, or a political one? Or a bit of both? It’s still a bit confusing.
DW: What is Indonesia’s response to this?
JB: At the summit, Indonesia delivered a warning to the MSG member states not to meddle in other countries’ matters. Their delegation head, Desra Percaya, said “we remind member states to continue to focus on the principles of MSG, the core principles, and to refrain from meddling in other countries` businesses”. That’s interesting though because the MSG’s founding principle really was to work towards the entire decolonisation of Melanesia.
DW: And the Liberation Movement?
JB: They remain hopeful, and have always been very respectful of MSG leaders’s decisions on this ongoing matter. But ahead of the summit, they had submitted their short, medium, long-term political and social agendas and demonstrated again that they’ve got sort of unity of representation of all the major West Papuan groups. But coming out of this summit, I think there is some frustration among some MSG member governments that this West Papua issue remains at this stage. I think the leaders are all in broad agreement that the MSG states should work together towards more regional, economic co-operation, and they’ve all outwardly happy with the re-structure now being undertaken by the secretariat, which has been poorly financed in recent years. But the West Papua issue remains a sticking point. And Vanuatu’s prime minister Charlot Salwai has told local media that he’s worried that that founding principle of freeing all melanesian peoples from colonialism has sort of got lost along the way. So he wants the MSG to take a more active role in putting the focus of the group back on self-determination of Melanesia. And he cited the case of the Kanaks (in New Caledonia). He says MSG should work with the Papuans and the Indonesians more closely to get them together as it were to progress the issue forward, as has been the case with france and the Kanaks. And that’s a nod to the fact that there’s a self-determination referendum due to happen in New Caledonia later this year.