Reclaiming West Papua after the Indonesian Declaration of Independence


After being colonized by the Dutch colonists for over three-hundred years, Indonesia finally declared its independence on August 17th, 1945. However, the big step which results in the new sovereignty for the country did not necessarily make Indonesia free of the problem. Several complex issues remained to emerge.

First of all, the Dutch government found it hard to acknowledge Indonesia’s independence held in 1945. In the post-World War I period, the Dutch launched the acts of military aggression to some areas in Indonesia. Moreover, even when the Dutch government finally admitted the Indonesian Declaration of Independence in 1949, Indonesia still struggled to deal with the internal problems within the country.

One of the most prominent issues is the reclaim of West Papua whose name changed in later times to Irian Jaya. Unlike any other regions in the Indonesian archipelago which automatically gained their freedom following the Declaration of Independence, the Dutch refused to devolve West Papua to the government of Indonesia. This situation resulted in a long process of West Papua reclaim in the post-independence era.

The Reasons Why the Dutch Colony Refused to Free West Papua

Dutch colony -
Dutch colony –

Back in the day when Indonesia prepared its democracy and independence from the Dutch company, the agreement had been reached that Indonesia owns the area of the archipelago from Sabang in the west border to Merauke, Papua, in the east border. The Dutch government formerly colonized all of those regions, but for some reasons, leaving the region of West Papua under its leadership force when the Indonesian’s independence was proclaimed.

The main reason why West Papua was not automatically devolved after the Indonesian Declaration of Independence is that according to the Dutch government, there were many noticeable differences between West Papua and other regions in Indonesia. Melanesian groups who occupy the island of West Papua were judged to have distinctive characteristics from the rest of racial population living in the country. In addition to ethnical and cultural aspects, the distinction between West Papua and other regions were based on geographical features.

More importantly, the Dutch government wished to continue the particular actions and plans which were related to its main purpose of colonization—and European colonization for that matter. The colonization was aimed to fulfill three purposes regarding wealth, the persuasive effort to spread the belief of Christianity, and achievement leading to great admiration.

West Papua was considered to be the perfect place for the Dutch to fulfill the purposes mentioned above. In line with the potency of mining area located in West Papua, this region would also have a great potential for being the center of evangelism mission in the Asia-Pacific area. Therefore, instead of sincerely giving back West Papua to the government of Indonesia as it was supposed to happen, the Dutch intended to make the region as its ‘puppet country’ in which the Dutch government fully supported and ruled the island of the black pearl.

The Diplomatic Efforts to Reclaim West Papua

Papua -
Papua –

With the aim of reclaiming West Papua, the Indonesian government chose to involve the diplomatic negotiations with the Dutch. The negotiation started with Dutch-Indonesian Round Table Conference which was held in Den Haag, on August 23rd – November 2nd, 1949.

There are two most important points brought in the Round Table Conference. First, the Dutch government should entirely admit that Indonesia had declared its independence, thus having its own autonomous sovereignty. Second, West Papua, the region in question, should be given back to the territory of Indonesia.

While the first issue was granted, the freedom of West Papua from Dutch colonization was promised to be processed one year later. However, in one year after the Round Table Conference, the Dutch government broke its promise to give back West, Papua resulting in other diplomatic efforts for the mission of West Papua reclaim. This issue was even brought in the Asia-Africa Conference in later years as well as in one of the United Nation conferences in 1961.

Military Confrontations Following the Unsuccessful Attempts of Diplomacy


As a result of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts, President Soekarno announced a movement called Trikora (Tri Komando Rakyat) or People’s Triple Command in December 1961. One of the contents of Trikora resulted in another military operation to confront the Dutch government in West Papua. The military movements include infiltration, exploitation, and consolidation.

With more and more military aggressions happening in West Papua, the safety of Asia-Pacific area was at stake. To avoid that risk, another diplomatic conference, namely New York Agreement, was held by the United Nations on August 15th, 1962. The conference discussed the future of West Papua, involving the relation between Indonesian and Dutch government, as well as the deliberation of Papuan people.

A long journey and effort have been through by Indonesian government to reclaim West Papua after the Declaration of Independence. The conference and confrontation then concluded in the mid-1969. As a result, that year marked the time when West Papua is finally included as a part of Indonesia.