Talking about West Papua means talking about many things, including Melanesian race. Although West Papua is a part of Indonesia, West Papuans are mostly different from commonly typical looks of most Indonesians. They have physical characteristics of the Melanesian race which include dark skin, dark frizzy hair (some of the Melanesian children are fair/blonde haired but very rare, and it usually gets darker as they grow up), big nose, and average-built body.
Melanesian race populations are divided into several regions of Oceania, i.e., Maluku Islands (The Moluccas) and West Papua in the Eastern part of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Loyalty Islands, and Australia. The largest population of Melanesian race is in Papua New Guinea with 8,084,999 people (based on 2016 census) while the smallest population is the Indigenous population of Australia—the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—which was counted at 649,171 (2.8% of total Australia’s population) in 2016.
The above was brief information about Melanesian people. Speaking of the unique race, it is also important to bring up about the topic of Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). What is the group? What is it aimed for and what does it have to do with West Papua? Keep reading.
What is Melanesian Spearhead Group and its activities?
The MSG is an association of several countries in the region of Pacific island whose economies are fulfilled with the utilization of natural resources, agriculture, and tourism. Those countries are Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and a movement that supports the independence of New Caledonia— FLNKS standing for the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste. The chairperson of the assembly is currently Hon Rick Houenipwela, Prime Minister of The Solomon Islands.
Activities of the MSG secretariat cover the implementation of the MSG Trade Agreement which has recently been renewed into trading policy in the selling of goods and services, labor migration, and cross-border investments, as well as peacekeeping operations in collaboration with the UN. In the political aspect, the FLNKS unit has been established within the MSG Secretariat. The unit is aimed for the execution of a number of initiatives under the Noumea Accords (an agreement held in 1998 that mentions the French Republic’s promise to grant political power to New Caledonia and the Kanaks, its original population).
The history of MSG
Having been founded in Port Vila by the governmental heads of the self-governing states and the leaders of the FLNKS on 14 March 1988, the Melanesian Spearhead Group was later admitted as a recognized institution by the international law in 2007. A year later, the group established its headquarter building in Port Vila, Vanuatu. In celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2013, it started many events, projects, and activities.
The thoughts of MSG establishment were led by an informal meeting of the heads of government of Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and representatives of FLNKS that was held on 17 July 1986 in Goroka, Papua New Guinea.
The MSG has proven its commitment to improving the economy of each member country with its own Trade Agreement (Renewed in 2005 and 2016). Having been a success indicator of the group, the MSG Trade Agreement has also led its development into a regional block.
MSG and its relation to political situations in Indonesia, especially West Papu
Speaking of MSG and what it has to do with Indonesian politics, so far, Indonesia has been loyally supporting the developments of Melanesian countries, especially the member countries of the MSG. The support includes cooperation between the Indonesian government and the MSG such as a donation of $ 500,000 to help fund the building of the MSG’s Regional Police Academy recently.
Too bad, some issues are clouding the relationship between Indonesia and MSG, especially after the controversial observer status granted by the group to the country in 2011. In 2013, a separatist group from West Papua, the West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL) proposed for its membership to the MSG. However, the group has not yet approved the proposal until the second application was submitted by another separatist group, i.e., The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in 2015. The application met disappointment, though, as it received another rejection. The MSG suggested that West Papua independence organizations must first unite to obtain consideration for their membership applications in the future.
Furthermore, there has been hearsay going on about the MSG’s support on the preparation of West Papua’s independence initiated by The West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL) or The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). However, it has been confirmed by the group that it is not true. It is proven by the fact that there is no written agenda or report on the group’s official website (www.msgsec.info). Besides, the Indonesian government is also supported by Papua New Guinea and Australia. In fact, both countries have confirmed they fully agreed that West Papua is a part of The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia or abbreviated as NKRI).
It is expected that the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and the MSG in every aspect can be improved in the near future as it can help stabilize the country’s unity and security.