Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, center, sending off an Indonesian aid delegation to cyclone-hit Vanuatu, earlier this month. (Antara Foto/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Priority or Not, Indonesia Happy to Host Vanuatu Embassy

APRIL 23, 2015

Jakarta. Regardless of apparently conflicting statements from the Vanuatu government about the opening of an embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia appreciates the Pacific nation's interest in the establishment of a diplomatic mission here, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

Spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir was asked to comment on a statement by Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman, who was reported to have said, earlier this week, that the establishment of an embassy in Jakarta was not a priority.

Vanuatu Foreign Minister Meltek Sato Kilman Livtunvanu, in Indonesia to attend the Asian-African Conference, on Monday did speak of plans to open an embassy, which immediately were welcomed by his Indonesian counterpart, Retno L.P. Marsudi, and then rebutted by Natuman.

Arrmanatha told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday that the plans to strengthen ties were indeed discussed by the two foreign ministers, and that he didn't think it would be right to comment on the internal political dynamics of another country.

Papua concerns

Natuman was quoted as saying by news portal that no decision had been made to open an embassy in Indonesia, and that his country was still focusing on reconstruction efforts after it was hit by a devastating cyclone in March.

"Every diplomatic policy from the Vanuatu government, such as opening an embassy in any country, including in Indonesia, has to be decided by the incumbent government," Natuman said. "So far, the government never made any decision [to open an embassy in Jakarta]."

Natuman also said Vanuatu would need to take many aspects of its foreign relations into account before it would enhance diplomatic relations with Indonesia.

The Tabloidjubi report quoted Natuman as saying that the human rights situation in what he called "West Papua" — the Indonesian part of New Guinea — played a role in the considerations to open an embassy

"Our attention is on West Papua and how we fight together against every human rights violation that is faced by the people there," he said. "Opening a Vanuatu embassy in Indonesia is not our priority."

"Currently, Vanuatu also has a lot of work to do, especially after hurricane Pam," Natuman added.

Hurricane Pam destroyed large parts of the island nation and left dozens dead, besides ruining crops and demolishing fishing fleets.

In early April, Indonesia sent $2 million worth of aid to help Vanuatu's government relief efforts.

Melanesian Spearhead Group

Indonesia has been trying to boost its ties with Melanesian countries in the Pacific, ahead of a regional summit next month that may address possible Papuan membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Melanesia extends from Fiji to the Arafura Sea and is commonly thought to include Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Papua and the Maluku islands. The latter two are part of Indonesia.

Last year, a group of foreign affairs ministers of Melanesian countries visited Indonesia's then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to pledge their support for Indonesia's sovereignty over the provinces of Papua and West Papua, where government troops have been facing a low-intensity separatist campaign for decades.

However, the 2014 MSG pledge to respect Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua was boycotted by Vanuatu, a member of the regional grouping.