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.
FRANZALBERT JOKU, WEST PAPUAN SPOKESMAN: We have indeed looked at
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.
FRANZALBERT JOKU: It is to be
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.
FRANZALBERT JOKU SPEAKING AT
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
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
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
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.