INDONESIA has urged Australia to rebuke Pacific Island states who raise issues relating to West Papua in global forums.
Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu asked Australia to pass on a message to Solomon Islands and other Pacific states that they should not invite West Papua to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
They are also to be warned to not interfere in Indonesian domestic affairs.
But a research fellow at the Australian National University's State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program, Dr Stewart Firth (pictured), told me that Jakarta has misinterpreted Australia's relationship with Pacific countries.
FIRTH: These are sovereign states and in particular in the case of Solomon Islands, the Solomon Islands has a right to do that as a sovereign country and Australia is not in a very good position to tell them differently. In fact, the one thing that Pacific island countries really value is their sovereignty, so it is not as if Australia can just tell them what to do.
BLADES: In the Defence Minister's statements to Indonesian media about passing this message on, he mentioned that Australia has a big aid package in Solomon Islands (RAMSI - Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands), suggesting that could be used as leverage. This is a bit unusual?
FIRTH: I think so and in fact as we all know RAMSI has run down a lot. I mean it has really almost come to an end except for the police partnership, and that will finish in the middle of next year. Of course there has continued to be big bilateral aid, with New Zealand as well. But that doesn't mean you can then determine a country's foreign policy, there may be some whisperings behind the scenes and so on, but in the end it is going to be determined by the national interests of these countries.
In the case of Papua New Guinea, O'Neill sometimes comes out with statements which seem to favour a better deal for the West Papuans but in the end, there is no way in which Papua New Guinea can ever really take anything other than a pro-Indonesian position because here they are eight million people with a border with a country of nearly 260 million.
Indonesia is a giant compared with PNG and therefore PNG has to take into account what Jakarta thinks. It is just a question of ordinary border diplomacy.
BLADES: We have seen (Solomons PM) Sogavare really step into the role as MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group) chair but he has done a number of other things. Like he has got this quasi-government NGO coalition up and running, which is where a lot of the action is taking place. He must be the key figure in some ways.
FIRTH: I think that is true but of course you have got to then ask what these memberships and things amount to. It's very hard to see what Indonesia's associate membership actually is. We know what an observer membership is, and that's what the United Liberation Movement for West Papua has, it has an observer membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
What's worrying Indonesia is the way in which this whole question of membership of the MSG has assumed a kind of symbolic political value to West Papuan independence activists and earlier this year we saw major demonstrations in a number of towns in West Papua, which had people arrested and so on, because they were demonstrating in favour of West Papuan membership of the MSG.
Whether that actually amounts to much or not is less important than its symbolic significance.