I PUT out for public discussion, especially within Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, the idea of opening up the Island of New Guinea.
From the outset, I want to emphasise that I acknowledge the cultural, political, and security arguments involved. I restrict my arguments to the economic benefits that are likely to arise from opening up the island of New Guinea.
I am personally convinced that there would be significant economic benefits via the facilitation or enhancement of trade, investment, and movement of people between the west and the east of the island of New Guinea.
The island of New Guinea is divided almost equally between PNG and Indonesia. The original inhabitants are of Melanesian descent. The total population is estimated to be 12.2 million people: 4.4 million on the Indonesian side and 7.8 million in PNG. The island is rich in natural resources: minerals, oil, gas, timber, and fertile agricultural land, and tourism opportunities.
Together, the island can be an economic powerhouse located strategically between Australia and New Zealand to the south and Asia, the fastest developing region in the world, to the west and north.
At present, the island is not economically or physically integrated, neither internally nor externally, especially with the rest of the region. PNG, in particular, is so physically isolated that trade with the rest of the world is a critical challenge for the nation.
For instance, Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby is the only international airline gateway to the rest of the world. Connections between Port Moresby and the rest of the country remain expensive and difficult.
Likewise, Lae and Port Moresby are the main ports that facilitate the bulk of international trade. Internal maritime and land transport linkages between these two ports remain difficult and costly. This fragmentation remains a significant constraint to broad-based, sustained economic growth and development in PNG.
PNG’s sustained growth and development as a nation is dependent on its ability to facilitate domestic and international trade. Improving transportation and communication systems are needed to reduce the costs of goods and services and improve access to markets for local products.
It will also improve the capability of the government to deliver and for people to access basic services such as health and education. It is these considerations that have motivated me to put the case for the opening up of the island of New Guinea.
The proposal for opening up the island of New Guinea foresees Indonesia and PNG working collaboratively along the international border. As a start, I propose, in a very crude way, the idea of four cities and three highways as the core elements of the proposal to open up the island of New Guinea.
The four cities that I envisage are:
One Port or Maritime City on the South side of the border to the west of Daru, on the Indonesian side, largely because the PNG side of the border is mostly swampy. The exact location of this city, however, would be dictated by the engineering soundness of a substantial port that could serve as the foundation of trade between South East Asia, Australia, PNG, and Indonesia.
Two port cities on the north side of the island: Vanimo on the PNG side and Jayapura on the Indonesia side. These are existing towns, but they will need to be developed and expanded significantly.
One hinterland city situated halfway between the north and south of the island of New Guinea, along the international border between PNG and Indonesia. This city has to be strategically located with the view to connecting by road to the east of the island, making a connection to the existing highlands highway, and to the western end of the island. A maritime city could be developed in the west end by Indonesia at a location like Timaka.
Likewise, PNG would need to ensure that the road connects to the port cities of Lae and Madang, with the road running through the existing city of Mt. Hagen.
The three highways, critical for linking the four cities and making the idea of opening up the island of New Guinea a reality, are:
North-South Highway: this highway would connect the south port city with the two northern maritime cities, passing through the hinterland city. This super-highway along the international border will be critical for connecting trade links with the Asian countries to the north through the two port cities. Likewise, this highway will connect trade links with south east asian countries, Australia, and New Zealand through the south-based port city.
East-bound Highway: this highway would connect the hinterland city with the highlands highway through Mt Hagen. This highway would connect with the existing maritime city of Lae and the township of Madang.
West-bound Highway: this highway would connect the hinterland city with a port township to the west of the island of New Guinea, which Indonesia could develop.
The exact locations will need to be subjected to detailed feasibility studies, taking into account the geography, topography, and soundness of the marine base for a port city. Collectively, the four cities and the three super highways comprise the core elements of the project that would open up the island of New Guinea.
There are engineering, financial, social, cultural, political, economic, and security considerations for all who would be affected by this proposal.
While acknowledging that taking these issues fully into consideration is important, the premise on which this article is penned is the significant economic gains from trade and interconnectedness, especially for the inhabitants of the island of New Guinea.
The economic impact of this proposal would be significant for both PNG and Indonesia. This proposal links both economies to the fastest growing and/or strong economies of the world: Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
The proposal has the potential to develop an integrated economic community within this part of the world and place PNG and Indonesia, especially West Papua, on a path to sustained, broad-based growth and development.
This proposal complements two other major projects: the Maritime Silk Road being advanced by China and the Northern Australia Policy proposed by the Australian government for the development of the northern half of the Australian continent.
If this idea is progressed by PNG and Indonesia, it could be a good candidate project for the newly-established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
In ending this paper, I invite genuine discussions with a view to progressing this project because the potential economic gains for all inhabitants of the island of New Guinea, and more specifically for the broader PNG community and Indonesia, in my view is significant.
Hence, I sign off with the question: Why not open up the island of New Guinea?
Read the full paper by Charles Yala here: http://www.nri.org.pg/images/Downloads/Publications/2016_publications/Spotligt_Opening_up_New_Guinea_280616.pdf