This article argues that the democratic ideals espoused by Australia and Indonesia fall short in application to West Papua and West Papuans, and notes that such shortcomings are legitimated by mainstream media’s exoticist portrayals of West Papuans, particularly in Australia. The antidemocratic policies and processes of each government with regard to West Papua actually enable the (by and large) “good” bilateral relations at the state level to remain intact. However, this article contends that democracy, as practiced by civil society actors at the grassroots and digital network level in Australia and West Papua, creates cracks in the official Australia-Indonesia state relationship. Australian concerns over Indonesian human rights abuses in West Papua have traditionally been overlooked at the state level in favor of pursuing an amicable bilateral relationship.
However by forging digital activist networks locally and internationally—including building West Papuan-indigenous Australian partnerships, West Papuans are participating in a grassroots democratization process with global outreach, refusing to be sacrificed on the altar of regional realpolitik. The article concludes with a cautionary account of an apparent attempt by an opportunistic Australian political movement to hijack West Papuan democratization for its own ends, a threat West Papuan and Australian civil society activists are currently moving to contain.