This week I met a special friend in town.
Franz-albert Joku and I used to be on the editorial staff of the Murdoch-owned newspaper in Papua New Guinea, the Post Courier. I had not seen him in years.
Back in the early to mid-80s, he was a senior newshound doing the political rounds in Port Moresby. At the time I was still learning the ropes. Thereafter we went our separate ways – he back to Papua where he comes from and I, in pursuit of my journalism career, to Sydney Australia, where I joined the international news agency, Australian Associated Press (AAP) as the agency’s first Pacific Islander. I was the Agency’s South Pacific Correspondent.
This week Franz-albert is in Honiara. He is part of the Indonesian delegation to the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Leaders’ Summit, which Honiara is hosting. Until I ran into him two days ago, I did not even know he was in town.
Franz-albert Joku has a lot to say about the alleged human rights violation campaign being waged against Indonesia in many countries, including Solomon Islands today.
He believes the on-going campaign is by people with little or no knowledge at all about what is happening on the ground in West Papua in terms of development.
“The issue of West Papua is not new. It’s been on the agenda for many years. Unfortunately, today’s campaign is based on political statements. I believe we need to look beyond political statements. We need to look for ways to capture opportunities for cooperation as political statements do not help anyone,” he said.
Franz-albert Joku who now resides in Jayapura, the capital of Papua, said people need to realize that “Indonesia today is a reforming Indonesia.”
It’s a view echoed by the Head of the Indonesian Delegation to the MSG Summit, Dr Desra Percaya, who said while his country was not perfect, Indonesia was addressing the matter.
“We are doing our utmost best to address the issue of human rights violation,” adding the anti-Indonesian campaign only promotes separatism.”
He is “deeply concerned” about it because it is time-consuming, costly and diverts attention and much-needed resources away from dealing with the issue of development which would bring about benefits to everyone.
On the question of ethnicity, Dr Percaya said Indonesia is very much part of Melanesia.
“We have 11 million Melanesians living in five Indonesian Provinces including West Papua in Indonesia,” he said.
And Dr Percaya is urging stronger and closer working ties with Solomon Islands. In my view, Dr Percaya is hitting the nail on the head.
With our growing population, the need to aggressively invoke our foreign policy of friends to all and enemies to none, could not be more timely.
It’s the point Dr Percaya also made.
“In today’s world you can choose your neighbours. But we do not consider Solomon Islands a neighbour. We consider Solomon Islands a friend. And we want to work with Solomon Islands,” Dr Percaya said.
Potential areas for cooperation include, investment, fisheries and trade, which unfortunately took a nose-dive since last year, perhaps due to the West Papua campaign.
Indonesia is keen to share its experiences and expertise in many areas with us.
Economically, Indonesia is an influential member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose combined economies control an estimated USD2.4 trillion.
As a growing nation that we are, we need new investment and trade opportunities. But we need the connectivity. Indonesia has that connectivity to link us with other members of ASEAN.
Ignoring repeated approaches that Indonesia has been making over the years for closer economic ties only deprives us of opportunities to develop our economy. For its part, Jakarta has provided a draft of a technical cooperation agreement, which would provide the essential framework for such cooperation.
This year Indonesia exempted from their visa requirements Solomon Islands nationals traveling on an ordinary passport. This means people with ordinary passport no longer need to apply for an entry visa to visit Indonesia.
But there is little movement on our side. For example, the draft technical cooperation agreement is gathering dust somewhere in government offices in Honiara. One begins to wonder why this is so.
We all need each other, because the world has shrunk into a global village. We are part of that village. There is no choice.
By Alfred Sasako