China’s Changing Policies toward Tibet, and Indonesia’s toward West Papua

The East-West Center has published two more studies, one on China’s evolving policy toward Tibet and the other on Indonesia’s toward West Papua. Abstracts follow. The full reports are available for download.

Beijing’s Tibet Policy: Securing Sovereignty and Legitimacy, by Allen Carlson. Policy Studies 4. Washington, DC: East-West Center Washington, 2004. ix, 71 pp. Paper, $5.00.

This paper examines the main contours of Beijing’s Tibet policy since the start of the reform era (1979 to the present). It argues that throughout this period China’s position on Tibet has always been concerned with defending Chinese sovereignty, more specifically jurisdictional sovereignty, over the region. Since 1979, the ways in which the Chinese acted to secure such rights, however, have varied significantly, in two distinct phases. During the initial phase, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Chinese position was marked by the implementation of relatively moderate policies. In the second phase, which began in late 1987, and continues today, the Chinese position on Tibet has been defined by highly critical discursive moves, pointed diplomatic activity, a renewed commitment to use force to silence all opposition to Chinese rule, and the utilization of economic development programs to augment such efforts. This essay contends that three forces were crucial in determining Chinese policy on Tibet during these two periods: the underlying strategic value of Tibet to Beijing within the regional security dynamic, the persistence of historically conditioned, sovereign-centric values within elite circles in China, and the internal and external pressures created by Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening” line. The complexity of these factors suggest that understanding how Beijing acts vis-à-vis Tibet requires that students of international relations and security studies, as well as policymakers and activists, look beyond parsimonious explanations and single-faceted policy directions when considering the “Tibet issue.”

The Papua Conflict: Jakarta’s Perceptions and Policies, by Richard Chauvel and Ikrar Nusa Bhakti. Policy Studies 5. Washington, DC: East-West Center Washington, 2004. x, 82 pp. Paper, $5.00.

“Without Irian Jaya [Papua], Indonesia is not complete to become the national territory of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.” In recalling this statement of President Sukarno, her father, Megawati Sukarnoputri gave voice to the essence of the nationalists’ conception of Papua’s place in Indonesia and its importance. Indonesia today confronts renewed Papuan demands for independence nearly three decades after Jakarta thought it had liberated the Papuans from the yoke of Dutch colonialism. Indonesia’s sovereignty in Papua has been contested for much of the period since Indonesia proclaimed its independence–challenged initially by the Netherlands and since 1961 by various groups within Papuan society. This study argues that even though Indonesia has been able to sustain its authority in Papua since its diplomatic victory over the Netherlands in 1962, this authority is fragile. The fragility of Jakarta’s authority and the lack of Papuan consent for Indonesian rule are both the cart and the horse of the reliance on force to sustain central control. After examining the policies of special autonomy and the partition of Papua into three provinces, the authors pose the question: If Jakarta is determined to keep Papua part of the Indonesia nation–based on the consent of the Papuan people–what changes in the governance of Papua are necessary to bring this about?

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