Dutch-Indonesia Round Table Conference and the Negotiation about West Papua

Round table conference - wikimedia.org
Round table conference - wikimedia.org

After more than 300 years of colonization, Indonesians declared their independence in August 1945. The path which was taken by the then-new nation was not easy since the people had to build the state and deal with the Dutch, the colonialist who previously claimed that Indonesia was their overseas territory. The battle and negotiations with the Dutch’s government took a long time, specifically in the case of West Papua.

West Papua and the rest of now Indonesian territory shared the same history as they became part of early Indonesian kingdoms such as Sriwijaya and Majapahit. They were also the administration of the Dutch during the colonialism era. Under the principle uti possidetis juris, West Papua was supposed to be a part of Indonesia. However, the Dutch’s hesitation to admit it led to some negotiations, including the Dutch-Indonesia Round Table Conference.

Political Situation Surrounding the Conference

Round table conference - i1.wp.com
Round table conference – i1.wp.com

The Round Table Conference was held in Den Haag on August 23 to November 2, 1949. The participants of the conference were the representative of Indonesia, the Kingdom of Netherland (Dutch), and the Federal Consultative Assembly—a committee formed by the Netherland to administer Indonesia during the revolution (1945-1949). This conference was the 4th high-level meeting between then newly-established Indonesia and the Dutch, held after the Linggarjati, Renville, and Roem-Royen Agreement.

At the time, the Dutch had not admitted the independence of Indonesia and at the same time, claimed the country as their overseas territory. After the proclamation declared by the Indonesians, the Dutch Empire tried to stop it through military force. However, the international politics was against such action and pressurized the Netherland to take diplomacy actions instead. This resulted in the negotiations and agreements, including the Round Table Conference in 1949.

After the World War II, there was a wave of decolonization which happened across the globe. The regions which were previously administered and exploited as colonies started to declare their independence as a sovereign entity. Considering this political situation and support from the founding fathers, Indonesians were determined to fight for the independence, both through military battle and diplomacy.

The Dutch-Indonesia Agreement

Round table conference - wikimedia.org
Round table conference – wikimedia.org

The Round Table Conference was led by the Dutch Prime Minister at the time, Willem Drees. Indonesia was represented by Mohammad Hatta, while the representative of the Dutch was Van Maarseveen. In the conference, also came a representative of United Nations Commission for Indonesia (UNCI) as a mediator of the negotiation. Through these people, Indonesia and the Netherland had achieved some notable agreements as explained below.

  • The Kingdom of Netherland admitted the sovereignty of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RIS), with the acknowledgment must be done as late as December 30, 1949.
  • Between the RIS and the Kingdom of Netherland, there would be a unilateral relation led by the King of Netherland.
  • The troops and warships of Netherland would be withdrawn from Indonesia, with an exception for the small warships which must be handed to Indonesia.

From the agreement, there were two things which worked in the favor of Indonesia, they were: the Netherland admitted the independence of Indonesia and the military conflict could be ceased. However, the government system, federal, was deemed unsuitable for Indonesia’s principle as unitary government.

Moreover, the acknowledgment of the independence was limited to the western region since the Netherland refused to include West Papua as a part of Indonesia until the following year. The result of the Round Table Conference became even worse with the clause that Indonesia should be responsible for all of the Dutch’s debt since 1942.

The Status of West Papua

Round table conference - wordpress.com
Round table conference – wordpress.com

Based on the Round Table Conference, it is known that the status of West Papua as a part of Indonesia should be acknowledged as late as one year after the acknowledgment of Indonesia’s sovereignty by the end of 1949. However, the Dutch did not take action in accordance with the agreement. They still tried to maintain their stronghold on West Papua even after a year had passed.

From its aftermath, it can be seen that the Round Table Conference was a big step of the independence of Indonesia, even though it had a less significant impact on the status of West Papua. The aftermath showed the slow response from the Dutch, which frustrated Indonesians so that the latter withdrew from the agreed Netherlands-Indonesia Union.

The Netherland took Indonesians’ action as a sign that the result of Round Table Conference was no longer effective. Consequently, the contestation West Papua continued until at least 12 years later. It was on August 15, 1962, when the New York Agreement was signed. Through this agreement, both parties agreed with the Act of Free Choice to understand the determination of the West Papuans regarding their own future.

In respect to the status of West Papua, the New York Agreement had a bigger impact than the Round Table Conference, even though the former was unlikely achieved without the previous negotiations. In accordance with the New York Agreement, West Papuans did musyawarah (consultative council) which resulted in West Papua officially joined Indonesia.