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31 August 2018


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'The proof of Indonesian's intent was that lots of maps were found showing TPNG as Irian Timur (East Irian)'

Maps not proof of intent Robert, evidence of the growing PKI influence. A bit of agitprop to get the Aussie colonialist running dogs, well, running around howling with a hot chili up their rear ends.

Irian Timur was the PKI [Communist] designation for PNG. Hence also the satirical media moniker for my home town Darwin - South Irian, once as tropically staple as a yam, or banana, in the NT News of the day.

Post Tracy, Darwin maintained some latent capacity for irony, no thanks to the many ex kiaps in the public service and CLP. I date the ultimate death of irony in Darwin to 1987, but I'm up for a debate.

Last time I was in Vanimo the Indonesian consulate was stacked with East Timorese. Hardship post. I kept bumping into them, and they into me, in Jayapura hotels.

Sad and desolate the fate of those who changed sides once too often and made the wrong call, the opportunities for graft would have been far greater had they stuck by Gusmao. Ah history eh, winners one day losers the next.

In my opinion, Indonesia will not take over PNG because their founding fathers uphold democracy and freedom.

Indonesian people are generally good people and is one of the few Muslim countries that respects Christianity. Christians enjoy their freedom in Indonesia.

According to Indonesian Catholic priests working in Simbu Diocese, there are nine million Catholics and an equal number of Protestants in Indonesia and their number is growing. Muslims can be converted and vice versa.

I also welcome the deployment of Indonesian solders at the border to control drug trafficking and transnational crimes.

My paper presented at the National Law and Order Summit at Lae last month recommended the need to fight international drug syndicate and transnational crime at the border.

Was it a coincidence or as a result of my paper presented at the national law and order summit?

Anyway, I am very happy that Indonesia responded within days whereas the PNG defence force is incapable of providing the required border resources.

I remember after Indonesia took over Dutch New Guinea in 1963, the Australian Government was sure that the next step was to take TPNG.

All of a sudden Canberra was very excited as Australia had never had a land boundary with a potentially "foreign & dangerous" country.

I lived in Aitape in the Sepik District and all of a sudden Australian Army engineers started putting in new airstrips at Vanimo and along the border. ASIO and other secret service persons were sneaking around.

A guy with dark glasses rented a bush material hut from us and the agent who looked after the Russian defector Petrov came from Canberra to give advice.

Vanimo changed from being just a patrol post to being the headquarters of the new West Sepik District; from just one small trade store, overnight it was a town.

The proof of Indonesian's intent was that lots of maps were found showing TPNG as Irian Timur (East Irian). [The Indonesian part of the island was known then as Irian Barat.]

I think Martin Auld raises a very pertinent point.

Now that we are some 50 years or so into the post colonial era, it is painfully apparent that many former European colonies are struggling to make a go of independence.

It turns out that creating and maintaining a viable democratic nation state is much harder than anyone previously thought, including those of us fortunate enough to live in places like Australia.

As our recent local troubles have shown rather graphically, we cannot afford to take for granted that democratic norms will persist if those we elect decide to ignore long standing conventions and put spite, revenge, self interest and ambition ahead of the national interest.

Plainly, a workable democracy requires a high level of socio-political discipline and a facility for compromise in the endless contest of ideas about what constitutes "good government".

Many former colonies have suffered major socio-political problems when formerly antagonistic relations between tribal groups have reasserted themselves, with Rwanda being a prime example.

I must admit that I had forgotten about Indonesia's national paranoia about the influence of the Chinese. As Martin rightly points out, this puts some context around their continuing concerns about Timor Leste.

We live in a world where a few powerful nations are constantly manoeuvring for influence and advantage. In this environment, weaker states like Timor Leste and PNG are being manipulated by a combination of economic power, implicit threats and, sometimes, outright belligerence.

In many respects, we have regressed to the situation that applied in the lead up to World War 1.

The main differences are that the great powers of today are much more mindful of their vulnerabilities and, of course, they have very few colonial possessions to consider in their strategic calculations.

The emergence of "strong men" as leaders in Russia, China, the USA, Turkey and so forth compounds the risk of someone doing something rather stupid. Strong men have, typically, proven to have feet of clay and history is strewn with examples of their hubris and folly.

Let us hope that we will not repeat to hideous miscalculations of the past, whether that be in relation to Timor Leste or anywhere else.

'Indonesia has no desire or intention whatsoever of engaging in further military adventures like it did in Timor Leste.'

Unless East Timor disintegrates and once more ask Jakarta for integration, as it did in 1975. This is exactly the scenario we faced in 2006 when we sent the Operation Astute stabilisation force. East Timor is yet to prove itself a viable country, and may never do so.

Jakarta is acutely sensitive to Chinese influence in both West Papua and E.Timor and would most likely prefer East Timor to become a permanent Australian dependency than a Chinese satrap.

The new Timor Sea treaty is a move in the direction of ET becoming a permanent dependency and due entirely to ET leaders and their advisors using the China threat as leverage.

Digression though it may appear, this day has celebration among PNG and Australian Anglicans as Martyrs Day, in commemoration of those who in 1942, gave their lives to the connectedness they had with the people of 'now-PNG' in deep and fondest regard for humanity.

A religious framework may be supported or obfuscated, but the extent of gifting is undeniable.

More broadly is the memory of those who gave their all and those who returned to tell, of endeavour against opposing uninvited invasion, an infliction that detracted from human wisdom and wealth.

As to whether earlier connectedness stimulates future sustenance and support, time will tell, but affords hint of determination in caring of a place and perhaps in the main, for its people.

Growing a collective of understanding, hoped for by martyr few, may bloom as norm of many.

While I agree with Francis' conclusion that an Indonesian military invasion of PNG is only a remote possibility, I think that he errs in his analysis in several ways.

Firstly, while the Indonesian army may well find entering PNG a "walk in the park", it is highly unlikely to find it easy to assert and maintain effective control outside of a few major centres.

It evidently has struggled to do this in West Papua against very limited opposition. Any competently led resistance within PNG, especially if well trained and armed officers of the PNG Defence Force are involved, will mightily compound the problems of the occupier.

By becoming what Mao Zedong referred to as "guerrilla fish in a people's sea", a determined guerrilla force could create havoc for a thinly spread occupying force.

Both the Russian and US armies have found this out to their great cost in Afghanistan.

Further, no Australian government could or would simply sit on its hands while PNG fell to any aggressive power. This would be intolerable to the public which has long since integrated the history and mythology of the New Guinea campaign of World War 2 (especially Kokoda) into the broader Anzac legend.

Also, Australia would be bound to act in defence of PNG because of its critical place in our strategic thinking and planning for various conflict scenarios in the Pacific and South East Asia.

Australia has markedly increased its ability to project its military power through the acquisition of two new and very large helicopter landing ships plus the air warfare destroyers needed to protect them. Each of these ships can carry and support brigade strength combat units that would be more than a match for almost any other similar sized national army units in our region.

Whatever else it has done, our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria has provided our army with a great deal of operational and combat experience against both regular and irregular forces. History shows that such experience could be deployed to devastating effect upon a less battle hardened force.

Combine this with what is, in practice, the most powerful and operationally experienced air force in the region and any prospective Australian intervention would cause deep disquiet amongst Indonesian military planners, many of whom will have trained here and have warm ties with their Australian counterparts.

Happily, this is all entirely theoretical. I agree with Phil Fitzpatrick's assessment that Indonesia has no desire or intention whatsoever of engaging in further military adventures like it did in Timor Leste.

A former PNG member of parliament (since deceased,) told me that an Australian journalist once asked him, “What would PNG do if invaded by Indonesia?”.

The MP, who in actual fact was a supporter of the Free Papua Movement, could not resist, responding to the Australian journalist by saying, “Well, maybe we in PNG would join with Indonesia and together we would invade Australia !”

The journalist was shocked into silence.

That having been said, the best way to invade any country is by migration and workers. The USA and Australia both sent armed forces to Vietnam.

I would bet that as a consequence there are now far more Vietnamese people living and working in the USA and Australia than there are citizens of USA or Australia living or working in Vietnam.

The era when particular families in Indonesia used the military to carry out their expansionist plans is probably over.

Indonesia is also probably chastened by its experiences in Timor Leste and West Papua and won't try that sort of thing again.

From a military viewpoint, and as you point out, PNG would be a walkover. All Indonesia needs to do is have sufficient force poised on the border ready to go if the situation ever arises.

PNG is a bit like that mosquito sitting on your arm sucking blood just before its squashed.

I wouldn't rely on Australia for help either.

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