Indonesia’s Diplomatic Efforts to Reclaim West Papua from the Dutch

 Indonesia’s declaration of Independence on 17 August 1945 saw the new country seeks to reclaim all formerly-occupied East Indie lands. However, the Duct was adamant to keep resource-rich areas, including West Papua, under the sovereignty of Netherland kingdom. This resulted in two military aggressions in 1947 and 1958, which ended in several treaties due to international world’s support for Indonesia’s independence.

West Papua had a unique position in Indonesia’s struggle to gain independence, because the Dutch did not immediately acknowledge Indonesia’s sovereignty over the area. This resulted in series of diplomatic efforts to reclaim West Papua from the Dutch.

First Diplomatic Talk about West Papua

Round table conferance -
Round table conferance –

Following international condemnations against the Dutch because of their military aggressions, Indonesia and Netherland Kingdom agreed to hold several conferences regarding of Indonesia’s freedom acknowledgment. West Papua was first discussed in Round Table Conference (Konferensi Meja Bundar), which was held from 23 August to 2 November 1949.

The Dutch made a case against Indonesia’s wish to reclaim West Papua, saying that the populations of the area did not have any ethnic relation with Indonesia. Even when the two parties signed the treaty, the status of West Papua was still unclear. Indonesia and Netherland finally decided to hold another conference to discuss the matter.

The Netherland-Indonesian Union

On 27 December 1949, Indonesia and Netherland formed a union called Nederlands-Indonesische Unie. This union was Indonesia and Netherland’s version of British Commonwealth, and consisted of several sovereign and independent partners from the two lands. However, West Papua (then Netherlands New Guinea) was still considered a colony.

While Indonesia and Netherland collaborated in various fields, from defense and diplomacy to culture and economy, the status of Netherlands New Guinea was still unclear. Each sent representatives to review the situations in the colonized area, but the discussions did not meet with any conclusions. Indonesia finally left the union in 1956 and decided to reject the results of Round Table Conference.

West Papua Province and Asia-Africa Conference

Before leaving the Netherland-Indonesian Union, Indonesia had brought West Papua case to Asia-Africa Conference, which was held between 18 and 24 April 1955. Most of the Asian and African countries, which were slowly getting out of status as European colonies, supported Indonesia. The informal group of Asian and African countries in the United Nations, which had quite strong influences, also brought the case to the forum.

The international support encouraged Indonesia to form West Papua Province (Provinsi Papua Barat) on 17 August 1956. The new province had Soa Siu as the capital city, and Zainal Abidin Syah (the sultan of Tidore Kingdom) as the temporary governor. A year after the forming of the new province, Indonesia held a general forum in Jakarta, further discussing the efforts to reclaim West Papua.

UN General Assembly Meeting and Further Diplomatic Efforts

In 1961, the General Assembly of United Nations held a meeting to discuss the status of West Papua. Eisenhower Bunker, an American diplomat, proposed a plan that urged Netherland to give West Papua back to Indonesia within two years, with the UN as trustee. While Indonesia agreed to the proposal (with a shorter waiting period), Netherland only agreed if the colony was turned into “The Country of Papua,” and the UN acted as a trustee.

Indonesia finally decided to commit frontal “confrontations” in politic and economy. On 18 November 1957, various public bodies held a general meeting called “Rapat Umum Rakyat Jakarta”, which was an expression of public protest about Netherland’s decision to hold West Papua. This general assembly was followed by a massive labor strike, marking the first aggressive noncombat strategy in reclaiming West Papua.

The following month, Indonesia stopped all Netherland consulate activities; first in Jakarta, and then in all areas. Indonesia also committed cultural confrontations by forbidding Dutch movies to be screened in cinemas. The country further expressed its resistance by stopping Netherland’s ships from entering all ports.

In 1958, Indonesian government created a new Government Regulation (Peraturan Pemerintah), dubbed PP Number 23 Year 1958. The new regulation announced the takeover of several Dutch companies in Indonesia, such as Philips, KLM, Nederlandsche Handel Maatschappij NV (later became Indonesian Trade Bank or Bank Dagang Negara), and De Unie Publishing Company.

Last Diplomatic Phases

Round table conference -
Round table conference –

Since the previous steps were unsuccessful, Indonesia decided to launch a military operation called Jayawijaya Operation. The military operation forced Netherland to enter another treaty with Indonesia. On 15 August 1962, the New York Agreement resulted in United Nations becoming the temporary authority for West Papua. Netherland must slowly retreat its army, and E. J. Bonay was appointed as the first West Papua Governor.

On 31 December 1962, Indonesian flag was flown for the first time next to UN flag in West Papua. Finally, on 1 May 1963, the UN officially handed West Papua to Indonesia. The Act of Free Choice (Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat), which was held in several phases in 1969, saw Papuan representatives voting for their allegiances to Indonesia. It finally solidified the return of West Papua to Indonesia.