Thursday, November 23, 2006

Free for all

Freeport's grab for Phelps Dodge has put the pussies amongst the pigeons. It is now being speculated that BHP, who's CEO Chip Goodyear is, I believe, from Freeport McMoRan, will make a run for Freeport. If this turns into a massive free-for-all, it will be one of the last coincidents found at the top of this dot.commodity "super-cycle".

Simply ore-some

But more intriguing yet is the political fall-out of any BHP-led buyout of the vast Papuan mining interests. (You'd get the flavour of that here and here.) This would put that nasty little political "issue" smack dab in Australia's lap, where it is not so much an issue as a Molotov Cocktail.

Arc of Instability
Slipping into Jakarta yesterday for a six-hour visit, George Bush's main aim was to strengthen a key "war on terror" alliance. But the US president's fleeting appearance inadvertently highlighted the endemically unstable condition of a region that Australians, looking north and west, label the "arc of insecurity".

Indonesia's democratic institutions are but a fragile creation of the past decade. Mr Yudhoyono is the country's first directly elected leader. Since independence from the Dutch it has seen numerous religious, tribal or secessionist conflicts ranging from Aceh on Sumatra's tip to the troubled birth of East Timor. And its 220 million people are also, for the most part, poor and prey to the maladies affecting developing countries, not least an investment-starved economy, corruption and misgovernance.

Indonesia's tainted legacy of colonialism, authoritarianism and poverty is shared in spades by its smaller Pacific neighbours whose problems have been ramifying of late. And despite yesterday's big bash in Bogor, only Australia and New Zealand among the heirs to the western empires are taking much notice.

Taking the Lombok pact to the next level
After severe hiccups caused by the granting of asylum to 43 Papuans in Australia, Indonesia-Australia relations are now back on track with the recent signing of a pact for security cooperation in the widest sense of the word. The agreement, called the Treaty of Lombok, is not strictly a military pact but entails cooperation in virtually all security-related aspects, like defense, terrorism, border protection, drugs etc.

Any pact between two or more countries is essentially based on national self-interest. And it is equally true of this treaty between Canberra and Jakarta. And what are these interests that they seek to promote?

In the case of Indonesia, the top priority would be its territorial integrity, sharpened by the loss of East Timor. Rightly or wrongly, many Indonesians blame this on Australia. Therefore, when Canberra granted asylum to Papuans, Indonesia feared that Australia might be encouraging separatism in Papua.

It might be recalled that the treaty of cooperation, now signed between the two countries, was almost ready when the Papuan asylum issue scuttled the process. Jakarta had no use for a treaty of cooperation if Canberra encouraged Papuan separatism.

Therefore, the treaty says: "The Parties shall not in any manner support or participate in activities by any person or entity which constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other party, including by those who seek to use its territory for encouraging or committing such activities, including separatism, in the territory of the other party."

Though not spelled out, the reference here apparently is to Papua or any other restless region.

But the treaty can only go as far as it does on the separatism issue. If Papuan separatism were ever to become a major human rights issue, Canberra might not able to stem the tide of popular opinion as happened with East Timor. The government of the day might itself be swept away by domestic electoral considerations to take the high moral ground.

But there are some difficulties with this approach. First: any exercise to deal with Indonesia-Australia relationship at the top level, without grassroots support, is essentially fragile. It was evident with the first treaty signed in 1995 based on a leadership equation between then Prime Minister Paul Keating and President Soeharto. And when the East Timor crisis erupted, Canberra succumbed to popular opinion in Australia and Jakarta scrapped the treaty in 1999.

It is true that the present treaty is signed with a democratic Indonesian government and is not tainted with Soeharto's dictatorship. But its driving force has been Prime Minister Howard and President Yudhoyono, and one doesn't detect much popular input into it. Because of this weakness, it could easily become derailed over some crisis in Papua or any other popularly-charged issue. It would, therefore, need to build some popular support over an extended period, through education and a wide range of cultural exchanges between the two countries.

No need for cloaking effect with Indonesian ties
What, then, will we gain in the new agreement, and what is in it for Indonesia? The new text contains no less than four references to territorial integrity and separatism, which are preoccupations uniquely of Indonesia. There is no reference to human rights.

The UN Security Council does not score a mention but then the Indonesians are understandably concerned with the possibility of insurrection and insecurity particularly in and around Ambon and West Papua.

On the other hand, if one were asked to identify where, in the arc of instability to our north, our interests might in the foreseeable future be most painfully engaged, it probably would be in Indonesian West Papua. What, then, are we signing up for? Some species of underlying non-aggression pact, a part of which now clearly involves our immutable commitment to Indonesian domination of the Papuans, no matter what?

The new agreement will likely introduce more tension and resentment into our bilateral relationship with Indonesia than provide relief at what is bound to become a pressure point.

Our overall relations with Indonesia are so much more important than the Papuan part of them, which is not the same thing as saying the fate of the Papuans is not our concern. We must not let West Papua be handled as we handled East Timor.

If we try to evade this issue, if we legislate it off the bilateral agenda as the new security agreement will do, we will end up backing ourselves into a corner. The last thing we should be doing is making West Papua a no-go zone in our relations with Indonesia and in our bilateral discussion of local sources of instability.

The essential ingredient to successful Australian-Indonesian relations is to succeed in exposing the development of Indonesian West Papua to improved international scrutiny, and we are turning away from that prospect

West Papua: Indo-Australian Agreement Raises Concern over Human Rights
While the treaty acknowledges Australia's domestic laws that respect international obligations to provide asylum to genuine refugees, critics say the agreement is a deliberate attempt to prevent Australia from responding to human rights violations in West Papua.

The president of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Australia, John Dowd, says his organisation has serious concerns about Indonesia's handling of its jurisdiction over West Papua and the treaty should be the subject of more public debate.

"I can see no basis for a treaty with a country that's not under attack and we're not under attack," he told the ABC. "I think it's a mask for assisting their military."

The ICJ claims Indonesia has not honoured an international agreement made in 1962 that West Papuans be given the right to self-determination.

The Australian ICJ has released a specific statement on West Papua, which notes that no democratic elections have ever been held in the territory. The statement refers to a litany of human rights violations perpetuated by Indonesian security forces and the military since Indonesia's occupation.

Strangling West Papuan independence
West Papua has vast mineral resources of copper and gold some of which are exploited by the US Corporation, Westernport. It has huge timber forests, a prime target as forests elsewhere are being cut down and the countryside devastated.

Rex Rumakiek, the Decolonisation Officer of the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre and a West Papuan, when commenting on the new Treaty quotes the communiqué issued by the 2006 Pacific Island Forum:

"Leaders expressed concern about reports of violence in Papua and called on all parties to protect and uphold human rights of all residents in Papua and to work to address the root causes of such conflicts by peaceful means. They also urged Indonesian authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators of serious crimes in the Province of Papua."

The root causes of the independence struggle taking place in West Papua arise from the military occupation of the province and the savage repression of the independence movement.

More strife in paradise
AS instability spreads across the Pacific, a fierce debate is raging in Canberra about the direction of Australia's Pacific policy.
Last week's riots in the kingdom of Tonga mark a significant expansion of the "arc of instability" to our north, which now extends from East Timor to Tonga.

The fact that the arc is acting up comes as no surprise to observers, who have been watching Australia's global military engagement with a sense of dread.

The Howard Government, and particularly former defence minister Robert Hill, spent years undermining a fundamental principle of Australia's post-war security policy.

That is the need to maintain peace and stability in our immediate neighbourhood.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer argues that relations between Australia and the Pacific are strong, but the reality is that Australia is in danger of drifting away from its tiny island neighbours.

Post September 11 military adventures in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq have diverted attention and resources from the region.

Relations with PNG are at a near all-time low, the Solomon Islands regime hates us and Fiji's military has warned Australia not to interfere in Fiji's internal affairs.

A USTRALIAN troops and police are deployed in large numbers in East Timor and the Solomon Islands and now 55 Diggers and 35 police are on the streets of Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

We have warships standing by off coup-prone Fiji, Papua New Guinea is teetering on the brink of social and economic collapse and Vanuatu is always unstable.

Other smaller island states, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, are struggling (literally) to keep their heads above water.

Australia is the super power of the southwest Pacific and the world's only global super power, the United States, is more than happy to leave the wellbeing of the region in Australia's hands.

"We don't understand the Pacific and we don't really want to understand it. That is your back yard," a senior US official told me.

A senior Australian official, who spoke off the record, said that the problem with Australia's Pacific policy was that it was too focused on how many warships or troops were available -- and not on the underlying problems.

This new form of gunboat diplomacy carries considerable risk and does not address long-term solutions.

Simply sending in ships or Hercules transport planes to deliver peace-keepers and to rescue stranded Australian business people or tourists is not a solution.

What is required is deep and abiding engagement, closer people-to-people links, better education and access to technology.

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