Asia and the Pacific—these two geographic, political and cultural regions encompass entire life-worlds, cosmologies and cultures. Yet Indonesia’s recent enthusiastic outreach to Melanesia indicates an attempt to bridge both the constructed and actual distinctions between them. While the label ‘Asia-Pacific’ may accurately capture Indonesia’s aspirational sphere of influence, it is simultaneously one that many Pacific scholars have resisted, fearing that the cultures and interests of the Pacific are threatened by the hyphen1. This fear is justified, we contend, as Indonesia progressively puts itself forward in Pacific political forums as the official representative of ‘its’ Melanesian populations2—a considerable number of whom support independence from the Indonesian state3.
In this article, we examine why Indonesia is increasingly representing itself as a Pacific ‘nesia’ (Greek for islands), seemingly to neutralise West Papua’s claim to political Melanesianhood. Then we analyse the ways Indonesia is insinuating itself into Melanesian politics and its attempts to undercut Melanesian support for West Papuan self-determination. Finally we consider the implications of Indonesia’s lengthening arm into Melanesian politics for Melanesia’s regional political bloc, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), and for West Papuan politics. International support for West Papuan independence is critical to the movement’s traction, as it was in the cases of East Timor and South Sudan4. As West Papua refutes Indonesia’s claim that the conflict is an internal domestic one, and enlists the support of fellow Melanesian nations to help internationalise its concerns, Indonesia is forced to respond on the international stage too, seeking first to woo West Papua’s strongest potential allies, the MSG members. We conclude by arguing that if the MSG and individual Melanesian states want to respond to Indonesia by including it in their political and trade networks, it is their prerogative to do so. However, they should beware of further stifling already marginalised Melanesian voices such as those of West Papuans, this being the principal deleterious effect of Indonesia’s recent foray into Melanesian politics.