2015 Melanesian Festival As a Form of Indonesian Public Diplomacy in Asia – Pacific

Telah pernah dikirimkan ke 5th Indonesia-Malaysia Students’ Seminar on International Relations

Relations Students’ Association

Universitas Airlangga

PENULIS: Bambang Dwi Waluyo. 


In October 2015, Indonesia became the host of the Melanesian Festival for the first time. The background of Indonesia who held the festival became an interesting issue to discuss. This paper was made to find out the purpose of the event and how the event affected the relationship between Indonesia and the Pacific-Melanesian countries. In describing  these issues, the paper uses the concept of public diplomacy, in which there are three basic dimensions, namely News Management, Strategic Communications and Relationship Building. There are various forms of public diplomacy that exist today in order to achieve the goal of the state, one of which is done by Indonesia to strengthen its position in Asia-Pacific. The West Papua conflict is one of the problems that has been highlighted in the Pacific region, especially within the discussion inside the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). But then, Indonesia’s efforts to maintain it’s national unity and to show the world that Indonesia is a country that cares about its people and does not discriminate against any race, especially the Melanesian people. Thus Indonesia joined the MSG and held the 2015 Melanesia Festival to gain the trust of the international community as a form of public diplomacy.

Keywords: 2015 Melanesian Festival, Melanesia, Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP)


From the October 26 to 30, 2015, Indonesia hosted the 2015 Melanesia Festival held in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara for the first time and the event was attended by Melanesian countries which are the members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) such as the Fiji Islands, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia (“Indonesia Hosts the 2015 Melanesian Cultural Festival,” n.d.). The series of activities inside the 2015 Melanesian Festival includes conferences, film screening which tells about the lives of Melanesian race communities in Indonesia, such as Cahaya Timur: Beta Maluku, Atambua 30 Degrees Celcius and Tanah Mama, and dance performances. Indonesia sends representatives from five Melanesian provinces, which are East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, North Maluku, Papua and West Papua (“Indonesia Hosts the 2015 Melanesia Cultural Festival,” n.d.). This is also related to the increasing status of Indonesia from a Member of Observer to become an Associate Member at MSG. The Indonesian status as an Associate Member was announced on the 20th MSG Summit held in Honiara, Solomon Islands on June 24 to 26, 2015 (“Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Indonesia Acquires Associate Member Status in Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), “N.d.). Raising Indonesia’s status in the MSG is an effort to tighten its cooperation with other countries in the Pacific, because of their strategic geographical location adjacent to the Pacific region. Also, Indonesia is a home to eleven million Melanesian people (“Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Indonesia Acquires Associate Member Status in Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), “n.d.).

              In this case the Indonesian government seize the moment of the Melanesian Festival as a means to strengthen the unity of the nation and its national security to avoid and reducing the interracial and inter-ethnic conflicts and disputes by positive activities thus increasing public confidence in the government. In addition, Indonesia also took advantage of this moment to strengthen its position at MSG, which is one of the Pacific’s largest organizations. This was done in order to prevent outside parties especially MSG to participate in the West Papua conflict and to show the world that Indonesia did not differentiate the eastern region with the other regions and to care about the Eastern region’s culture and society, especially the people of Indonesia’s Melanesian. This paper will find out the purpose of the event and how the event affected the Indonesian relationship between the Melanesian countries in the Pacific.

              There are several previous studies related to this paper, the first of which is Lawson’s article (2016) entitled West Papua, Indonesia and the Melanesian Spearhead Group: competing logics in regional and international politics. Lawson’s writing focuses on the efforts made by West Papuan to become members of the MSG, the key aspects of Indonesia’s role in the Melanesian subregion and the extent to which these developments highlight the competing logic in regional and international politics. Meanwhile this paper focuses on Indonesia’s efforts to get closer to the Melanesian regional group to achieve its interests through public diplomacy.

              The second study related to this paper is written by Giles and Bernhold (2019) entitled Cultural festivals as intergroup settings: a case study of Pacific Islander identification. In the Giles and Bernhold writing, its focuses on how the festival of Eni has an important meaning in identity. Giles and Bernhold did several surveys and interviews regarding the significance of  identity on the 2016 Pacific Arts Festival in Guam. On the other hand, this paper tries to explain how state actors use art festivals as a top-bottom tool to form such identity.

              Another reference is an article from Lawson (2013) entitled Melanesia. On this Lawson’s second writing focuses to provide an overview of how and where Melanesian ideas have been developed, from their origins in racial ethnographs to their post-colonial period. Meanwhile, this paper focuses on the identity of “Melanesia” as a part of the Indonesian identity which is used as a unifying and interacting tool with neighboring countries, especially countries in the Pacific region.


The public diplomacy carried out by Indonesia is very closely related to their national interests, which are strengthening the Indonesian influence and and gaining trust in the Pacific region. In the constructivists paradigm . In this case, Indonesia’s interests are to strengthen its position in the Pacific region with an approach through Melanesian culture. This is due to Indonesia’s weakening position from the ULMWP at the MSG. It became important for Indonesia to strengthen its position by showing that Indonesia is also a country with Melanesian population, even one of the largest together with Papua New Guinea. In order to safeguard Indonesia’s front yard in the eastern region, it is important for Indonesia to take action in a smooth and sustainable manner so it is not considered aggressive or and a threat. Thus, the more constructive policies and more involvement in the community will be effective.

              National interests which are formed from the interaction of the state and its environment, give such influence to the policies taken by the country(Finnemore, 1996). Like the example of the Finnamore, such as the creation of Science Bureaucracy by countries in the world because of the influence of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ( UNESCO ). Thus, the Indonesia’s decision to hold the 2015 Melanesia Festival which is an instrument in public diplomacy became a policy based on national interests formed by the Indonesia’s interaction in an international environment. which in this case is in the form of the adjacent eastern Melanesian countries incorporated in the MSG.

              In the realm of international relations, Indonesian government’s effort to host the 2015 Melanesian Festival  is a form of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is a tool to build relationship by understanding the needs, culture, and society to communicate the views and to correct the misperceptions that exist in the international community to find areas where the government can find a common ground (Leonard, 2002). Relations which are established through public diplomacy can create an environment for people between countries to work together and to build trust in the international community. According to Mark Leonard in his book Public Diplomacy (2002), there are several objectives that can be achieved with the existence of public diplomacy, the first is to increase the sense of kinship with other countries in a way to show a good image of the country. The second one is to increase public appreciation to certain countries because the positive perceptions are formed. The third one is to tighten the relationships with communities among the countries, for example, to convince the people in a country to visit tourist places, and to buy the locally made products, give some insights and knowledge of the values upheld by the actors or the local community and society will sway other countries to invest, and become partners in political relations.

             The emphasis on this paper is on the Relationship Building, one of the three basic elements in public diplomacy, which are News Management, Strategic Communications and Relationship Building (Leonard, 2002). The first element of News Management is a communication management in everyday problems, reflecting the increasing need to harmonize communication with traditional diplomacy. The second element of Strategic Communications is the ability of the state to establish communication so that the target of the communication is in accordance with the institution. Different from the Relationship Building, Strategic Communications is a series of activities which are more like a political campaign, such as setting a certain number of strategic messages and planning a series of activities. The third dimension of public diplomacy, Relationship Building is the longest term process, which is done by developing strong relationships with individual and the public through scholarships, student exchanges, trainings, seminars, conferences, real and virtual networks, and access to media channels. The activity was carried out in order to build trust, to achieve positive perceptions by other countries and ultimately to strengthen relations between communities in order to convince people in a country to go to tourist attractions, to buy local products, to invest and to become partners in political relations. In this case, it takes quite a long time, which may take several months or years. Similar with the 2015 Melanesian Festival which was held at Indonesia, to become a form of a Relationship Building among Melanesian countries that will be carried out continuously and will require a long time to see the results.

              Through this public diplomacy, Indonesia hopes to introduce Indonesia’s Melanesian communities, which are spread across five provinces. On that way Indonesia can could introduce itself as one of the Melanesian countries, and carried the message that even though it is separated by distance and cultural differences, the Melanesian people in Indonesia also are part of the Melanesian community. Until now the collaborative effort undertaken by the Indonesian government is still ongoing. Although the 2015 Melanesia Festival did not have a significant impact on Indonesian relations with the Melanesian or MSG countries, but it was the case that gave birth to Kupang Message. Kupang Message is a series of cultural cooperation agreements that agreed upon by MSG member countries with the aim of respecting cultural differences and continuing to preserve the culture of Melanesia (“Kacung Marijan Convey the Content of the Kupang Message Agreement”- General Directorate of Culture,” n.d.). A year after the event is done until November 2016 the cooperation between the countries members of the MSG are still going, one of which is the development of palm oil commodity by Indonesia together with the other 13 Melanesian countries (“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cooperates with 13 Melanes Countries to Develop Palm Oil Commodities. ” n.d.).

              Public diplomacy does not create instantaneous results and require time to achieve the desired results. Indonesia itself has become a member of the Observer from MSG since the 18th MSG Summit in Fiji in 2011. At first involvement with MSG, Indonesia started from the establishment of an uprising in West Papua or the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) who seeks recognition by registering as a member of MSG (Neles Tebay, n.d.). With the increasing closeness of Indonesia’s relationship with MSG, then the chances of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) will be reduced. But at the 20th Summit held in the Solomon Islands on June 24 to 26, 2015, a decision was made that the ULMWP membership status had been revoked at MSG (Farneubun, nd) . At the same time Indonesia was appointed as an Associate Member at the MSG. To increase the confidence of the international community and the government’s concern on Melanesian society, Indonesia then held the 2015 Melanesian Festival  in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.


The Melanesian Festival aims to show the international community that Indonesia is one of the Melanesian countries whose communities and cultures are preserved and cared by the government. Making the emergence of separatist groups in the name of Melanesia Indonesia as domestic policy issues to create a unstable condition in the country has no clear ground. Because with the 2015 Melanesian Festival, it shows that in the fact of Indonesia’s Melanesian people already have a special attention from the state so that there is no other reason for certain groups to revolt and try to separate themselves from Indonesia. In addition, by joining the membership of MSG, the member states of MSG will not arbitrarily interfere in domestic policy of other states members and Indonesia will have a voice in the decision making process in MSG. The effort made by the Indonesian government is the forming and emphasis of culture in its foreign policy as an up-bottom formation of cultural identity .

              The festival also strengthens the relationship between Indonesia and the Melanesian MSG countries, although the relationship between them were still limited to the cooperation and trade relation even after the festival. Although Indonesia has not yet become a full member  of MSG, Indonesia has been trying to show that it is also a Melanesian country and always pay attention to not discriminate against any particular tribe or race. Because the process of public diplomacy is long and does not have instantaneous results, the Melanesian Festival is a form of public diplomacy conducted by Indonesia to change the international public perception of Indonesia.





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