The Pacific has just now been awakening to see its momentum and immense potentials to be a globally leading economic region. Countries in the region recently gathered together in an unprecedented forum to have an extensive, in-depth discussion about how they can materialize the potentials and how they can have even stronger ties with each other. Establishing greater economic cooperation and mutual understanding among pacific peoples and countries was deemed to be the key.
The very first of its kind, the forum was initiated by the Indonesian government and was held in Auckland, New Zealand 12-14 July. Titled as Pacific Exposition, this revolutionary, integrated Pacific forum successfully brought Pacific leaders to come and sit together, to have warm, fruitful discussion and exchanges of ideas over many issues including trade, investment, tourism, cultures, and arts especially from countries in the region.
Why the exposition?
The fundamental question, though, about the event is, why Indonesia that has been known to be part of ASEAN was the initiator of the event? What did that country have something to do with the region?
Geographically, Indonesia is located in such a cultural intersection where the Asian meet the Pacific cultures. The Indonesian archipelago thus spans various cultures from one end to another one. The western part of the country hosts the rich Chinese and Malayan heritage and cultures, while the eastern parts of it like Maluku, West Papua and Papua provinces are home to enormous Pacific cultural values and customs.
In between both ends, you’ll find places like Java and Bali that share a kind of mix of both cultural diversities. For example, when you count one to ten in Javanese, you’ll find that the words have a considerable resemblance with the counting in Te Reo Maori.
As some Indonesian officials explained, that realization of being in the crucial intersection has recently brought Indonesians to trace and seek their Pacific heritage, cultures and family that have been long apart, if not gone, for some reasons. This momentum was realized, and then caught the attention of the current administration that in the end manifested in the recent Pacific Exposition.
The awareness that it is a part of Pacific, geographically and culturally, suddenly prompted Indonesia to realize its responsibility to optimize its role in advancing the region.
Culturally, regions in Indonesia, especially Papua, Nusa Tenggara and Maluku, have no cultural resemblance to the Pacific. Instead, the region has ‘physical’ appearances, cultures, arts, languages, and values that are indeed, truly Pacific!
The rich cultures that the Pacific region hosts, though, have yet to find its momentum to materialize its cultural richness into some economic growth for the region and prosperity for its people. It lags behind the neighboring areas such as ASEAN where investments and tourism there have become massive industries benefitting sustainable, steady growth and welfare for the Asian’s south-east region.
To this end, an integrated forum such as the Pacific Exposition should be seen as a breakthrough for the Pacific region to, as it says, create its long-hidden momentum to emerge and advance. As leaders of the regions gather together, contestation and creation of ideas that happened during the forum should become a valuable start.
It has been reported that Pacific leaders from 20 countries, including prime ministers, ministers, MPs, and leading businesspeople, were eager to share their stories, ideas and breakthroughs in the event. Some high-ranked figures from Australia and NZ, like Winston Peters – the NZ Deputy PM, also came. They, in general, agreed upon the notion of how investment, trades, and tourism should become the critical fields to be optimized in the region. If they are well-taken care of, the momentum of advancing Pacific can be a global hit soon.
Alongside the forum, business exhibition and music and cultural concerts were held. Some great Pacific artists, such as Swiss (Tonga), Sam Chookoon/Mr. Cowboy (Samoa), and Ellaphon (Maori – New Zealand) came not only to entertain but also to strengthen the Pacific bonds between peoples from the region. From Indonesia, artists and musicians from Maluku and West Papua were also present like Ivan Nestorman, Papua Original, Andre Hehanusa, and Glen Fredly.
Ego and interests in the way
The need to create the momentum the Pacific region needs, unfortunately, cannot be comprehended by certain parties. Some Individuals, organizations and even media doubt that the event could bring any benefit for the region and the countries within. Some even accuse this forum of being deceptive and called it just a power play.
Accusations and rejections mainly come from New Zealand such as Radio New Zealand and some other parties like Auckland Uni’s Pacific Media Center, a few NZ MPs and a few other individuals who cast their protest in front of the venue of the forum. Their claims are mainly based on the resolution of the West Papua issues.
In short, the forum should not have been held amid, as they believe, the failure of Indonesia to resolve human rights violation issues in West Papua. The conference was to hide any problems regarding West Papua and to be used as a play to cover what has been happening and developing in West Papua that, they believe, is a nightmare.
We appreciate their attention to the West Papuan issues. However, these parties’ perspective is nothing but a short-sighted, if not failed, point of view in resolving the unfortunate, dark past that any country including the pacific countries, Indonesia, and even New Zealand have.
They fail to present and create a valuable and honorable contesting forum that has a considerable degree of bargaining position in front of the NZ public, let alone the international community. Moreover, these peoples have been stuck and have failed to come up with alternative options such as potential negotiations, debates, alternate policies and, if necessary, compromises to raise global awareness of the West Papua’s pursuit of welfare and prosperity.
To this end, one will see that these opposing parties are nothing but people who are unfortunately relying on, both deliberately and mistakenly, selected information to satisfy their ego and personal interests and purposefully ditch greater regional development needs and goals.
The discouragement is far from being positive criticism. And yet, it was seen as rather a failure to see the hard work that other people have done to develop West Papua. While creating cynical news and going on a street strike to think they are there for West Papuans, many other people have been flocking to arrive in West Papua to provide much more affordable, some even free, and better access quality education and health services. They surprisingly are not only Indonesians but also foreigners. They are building schools, libraries and health centers voluntarily, where media like RNZ, those protesters and others alike may not want to read and listen to.
For Indonesia, the West Papuan region is just like other provinces. In that sense, that Indonesian government is establishing infrastructure, developing human resources, and pursuing regional safety and security there is nothing but what the Indonesian government should do, as any other government would do to their states or provinces.
The ‘pacific part’ of Indonesia, like Maluku and West Papua, have become the central focus of human and infrastructure development for the last decade. Art and cultural events are often held in those areas such as music and cultural festivals. For West Papua specifically, the region that is now led by Native West Papuans is recently witnessing massive infrastructure advancements where connections are now much better among communities within the region, as well as that of between West Papuans and people from outside of the area.
The Pacific Exposition forum itself is far from perfect, of course, especially in a way that it did not cover some critical issues like social development, including resolution over West Papuan issues. However, we see that it is a marvelous start for the participating countries to be more open with each other. Both officials and civilians that came to the forum must have been ‘exhausted’, in a positive way, by the variety of Pacific cultures, arts, and other aspects of each country ‘exposed’ during the unprecedented event.
As a start, the forum should be seen as the very first step that Pacific countries’ leaders will, later in the next steps, sit together and can come up with the best alternatives for the region to prosper including to find the best resolution for West Papua’s issues in this case.
The expo reflects how people are trying hard to establish a mutual understanding with each other perspectives and cultures, including to develop steps to resolve West Papuan issues. Meanwhile, the opposing parties are instead hampering any effort for open, warm discussion by yelling and shouting at random people as if they are the most caring brothers and sisters of West Papuans.
Compared to how other people are busy with real actions to better West Papua, what those protesters are and have been doing are a really big shame!
Well, let’s then focus back on the great potential and momentum of the Pacific. Great goals will always find some parties that are meant to be a pain in the butt to test how persistent people who believe in those goals are.
The expo was an audacious, valuable start for greater engagement among Pacific countries. We are hopeful that many Pacific potentials in many fields, like trade, investment and tourism, will be continuously watched and subsequently materialized, sooner or later.
“This Exposition, where all of the Pacific has been welcomed, is a very tangible expression of Indonesia’s increasing embrace of its Pacific connections. New Zealand, as a country both in and of the Pacific, welcomes this greater engagement. Our government has been very clear that under the Pacific Reset, building deeper partnerships across the Pacific is one of our priorities,” NZ Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said during his welcoming speech on the first day of the forum. (*)