China in the Pacific

REPORTER: Ben Bohane

Two weeks ago, West Papuan leaders dropped a diplomatic bombshell when they

announced they were seeking Chinese support for their independence struggle.



establishing direct links with China.

Why is China important to the West Papuan struggle?


JOKU: Firstly, it is in our region. Secondly, it has a great influence in international forum,

more importantly at the UN. And what many people do not realise is that just recently for

instance, China has entered into agreement with the Government of Indonesia to buy

natural gas from West Papua. So there is economic interest. China`s traders have been

trading with Papuans centuries before the Europeans ever discovered us.

China`s renewed interest in West Papua and the Pacific has rung alarm bells in the region

and prompted a denial from Beijing.


expected. That is a standard diplomatic statement normally applied by sovereign states to

protect their own political and diplomatic interests and I have no comment on that. That was

to be expected. When we talk about China, you`ve got to look at the political set-up there.

Obviously, we probably go to the Chinese Communist Party first, before getting the green

light to talk to the Government, let alone junior diplomats in capital cities in this part of the


Franzalbert Joku, the international spokesman for the West Papuan

Presidium Council, was in Sydney as part of a whirlwind diplomatic tour of the Pacific to

argue the West Papuan case.


SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: We don`t want to fight with our brothers like George and Ian. With

Ian Siargian and so on. What we are up against is this vicious political system that has

enslaved not just the Papuans but has enslaved millions of Indonesians. We sympathise

with Javanese, the Dayaks, the Malukans, the Timorese, and I`m happy they`re going to be

independent soon. We sympathise, but we are powerless. What can 2 million Papuan

people do to free Indonesia? That`s why I do not feel that as a Papuan, I am competent to

discuss the bigger issue as my friend George Aditjondro would. We are weak. We are

smaller in number. We can only speak on our behalf. I`m sorry, but we have decided, the

Congress has decided, that Papua will be free! And we will decide, not anybody else.

The West Papuan independence struggle provides Canberra with an acute

dilemma. By continuing to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua, Australia

risks allowing China to gain greater influence on both sides of the New Guinea border.

Is playing the China card an attempt to force Canberra to take more notice of the West

Papuan issue?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: We are not simply about seeking

help from Australia or New Zealand and the Pacific countries or even China. Just to win our

independence. We are looking into the future and we are sort of working out how we are

going to formulate and pursue relations with other countries.

High on the West

Papuan diplomatic hit list is New Zealand, which has often played a lead in regional security

issues such as Bougainville, and may once again become a broker for peace – this time

between West Papua and Indonesia.

FRANZALBERT JOKU: I cannot speak

for the New Zealand Government or New Zealand as a country, but I think after our dialogue

or meeting with Minister Goff last November, that was made amply clear, that New Zealand

would be willing, and I think PM Clarke also signalled that willingness to mediate.

The need for mediation is becoming more urgent. Given the political instability in

Indonesia, the likelihood of a Megawati presidency and fears of a military crackdown which

may follow.

FRANZALBERT JOKU: The prospect of Megawati coming into

power does cause a certain amount of concern among the Papuans and Papuan leaders,

because a Megawati leadership prospect or Megawati leadership offers the prospect of

increased military role or military returning to picking up influencial position in politics and

Governmental matters.

Some observers like George Aditjondro have

suggested that a Megawati presidency will in fact help the pro-democracy and progressive

forces within Indonesia actually focus their campaign.


JOKU: I myself do also see that scenario emerging, because her leadership will definitely

trigger off movement in a number of direction and I agree with George Aditjondro that this

may even strengthen the pro-democracy and human rights movement in Indonesia as well

as West Papua.

Australia continues to recognise Indonesian authority. As

John Howard stated at the South Pacific forum last year.


(October 2000): The sovereign authority of Indonesia has been acknowledged. So, unless

somebody is asserting that we can`t say anything about it, which is plainly ridiculous, it could

hardly be regarded as provocative or offensive. It`s just a statement of the obvious that we`re


But what really concerns the West Papuans is that Australia is

actively blocking dialogue which could help solve the issue.


JOKU: I would rather them not say anything at this point in time, even if they had

reservations or even if they differed in terms of approach being taken by other countries in

the region, but they are entitled to state their position and I respect that.


you sense that Australia might be moving in its position at all on West Papua?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: Ben, do not be misled by what meets the eye. At the surface, it

may appear that Australia and PNG are not supportive. I can comfortably say that below the

surface, the story could be quite different and it`s a matter of time. We`ll see what happens.