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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.

Indonesia has a Right to West Irian

Indonesia has a Right to West Irian

Indonesia has a legal right to West New Guinea, claims Professor L. H. Palmier. There seems no rational reason why the Dutch should continue to occupy the island, especially when the majority of Dutch care little about New Guinea's future. But this does not detract from the fact that Indonesia's military build-up is quite irresponsible considering the declining prosperity of the already poor country.

In a talk to World Affairs Council, Professor Palmier began by tracing the recent history of the area. In 1957, after a few preliminary riots, the government seized Dutch property. This severed a connection begun in 1619 with the foundation of Batavia, a connection longer than that of the British in India. The dispute over West New Guinea arose in December, 1949 at the transfer of sovereignty after a superior battle both in the bush and in diplomatic circles by the Javanese.

There was very little dispute at the handing over in 1949, the only point of difference being, of course. West New Guinea. The U.S., which had favoured the independence struggle, suggested the compromise that the question be left for one year pending negotiations. The Netherland forces remained in occupation because the Indonesians were too weak to drive them out. However, this occupation could not be regarded as a legal claim to sovereignty considering such precedents as the British occupation of Cyprus in 1878, the British still recognizing Turkish sovereignty.

All statements made before 1949 took for granted that the island would be part and parcel of the power transfer and there was no statement to the contrary.

It is essentially a matter of force and to this end Indonesia has begun a large-scale military build up.

In 1949 the Netherlands-Indonesian Union was set up, continued Asian Studies Professor Palmier. This union took broadly the same form as the British Commonwealth, but when New Guinea was not transferred with the other islands, the Indonesian Government broke this union and later went on to repudiate all debts that were owing to Holland. Then followed a completed diplomatic break; the United Kingdom looked after Dutch interests whilst the U.A.R. acted for Indonesian interests.

There seemed no rational reason why the Dutch should hold on to West New Guinea as it is largely a barren country with only 700,000 people, of which only 300,000 are in contact with the outside world. Another 50,000 are of Indonesian extraction. Those living in the interior are still practicing stone age culture. The island does not pay its way and the oil production is steadily diminishing; it costs the Dutch over £8 million to keep the island solvent for one year.

The Dutch have given two main reasons for remaining on the island; in 1946 they contended that the Eurasians living in Java should have somewhere to go after independence. They ignored the fact that the Eurasians showed no enthusiasm to go as they were primarily city dwellers. In 1949 the Dutch gave the reason that the Papuans should have self-determination. But it is a little difficult to understand how an illiterate and backward people could determine their own political future.

Why should the Dutch hold on to it? Professor Palmier said that the churches in Holland had pressured the Government because of their missionaries, but more important was the fact that the Dutch wanted to be considered a great nation and earn respect from the U.S. as an Asian power.

Why does Indonesia want the island? Pre-independence statements made by Sukarno did not explicitly demand West New Guinea. The team negotiating independence comprised half Republicans, half Federalists. The latter were all for co-operating with the Dutch but were adamant upon the subject of New Guinea; they wanted to show that co-operation was the best way. The Republicans were keen to battle it out with the Dutch. The Republicans wanted to get independence immediately and were afraid that negotiations over the island might delay the independence talks.

After independence, the Republicans (who hailed from Java) managed to unite the nation under the banner of freedom for West Irian. On independence the Republicans had to show their patriotism; added to this was the difficulty of declining economy. There was one solution—that was to stress the New Guinea question, so uniting the country and at the same time showing everyone that they could govern, as only they had all the people behind their policies.

Citing the analogy of the invasion of Goa by India, Professor Palmier said that India had no legal right for this action, but this, and Indonesia's claim, have the backing of the Afro-Asian bloc. Support for these claims do not come because they are anti-colonial, but rather that they are anti-West. The Afro-Asian world no longer recognizes rules that were made by the Western colonial powers.

For Indonesia, with its critical financial problems, to spend large sums of money on arms build-up was quite irresponsible; nor was the Goan invasion responsible considering the state of India's economy. When a person is rich he acts in a more responsible manner. When a country is rich and powerful it tends to act more responsibly. Concluded Professor Palmier: "More aid to Asia will make these countries more responsible."

However, he was of the opinion that Indonesia's claim was a valid one and that the Dutch had no right to maintain their troops in West New Guinea.

Because the Dutch have the present military superiority that does not mean that that substantiates their claim for the island. Moreover, prior to 1949, the Dutch gave no indication that they were going to retain their section of New Guinea and it was taken for granted by all that the island was to be given to the Indonesians.