This Commonwealth arrangement, however, never eventuated and by 1957 that treaty was nullified by the ‘Indonesians’.
Consequently, Sukarno nationalised 246 Dutch companies which had been dominating the Indonesian economy, most notably the NHM, Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij, Escomptobank, and the “big five” Dutch trading corporations (NV Borneo Sumatra Maatschappij / Borsumij, NV Internationale Crediet- en Handelsvereeneging “Rotterdam” / Internatio, NV Jacobson van den Berg & Co, NV Lindeteves-Stokvis, and NV Geo Wehry & Co), and expelled 40,000 Dutch citizens remaining in Indonesia while confiscating their properties. A key argument used by Sukarno was the failure by the Dutch government to continue negotiations on the fate of Netherlands New Guinea as was promised in the 1949 Round Table Conference
How painful this all was for the Dutch is evident in the fact that it was not until 2005 – during a visit from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands – that the Dutch finally recognised the 17th of August 1945 as the birth of Indonesia and not the date on which sovereignty was finally transferred on 2nd of November 1949.
The Dutch-Indonesia conflict had a unprecedented effect on the country’s foreign policies. Until 1942, it had largely depended on British guidance on international issues. The conflict led to Australia’s first major independent political relationship with an Asian country. It took Australia out of its very narrow national perspective, largely dominated by its White Australian Policy, that continued.
Australia’s active involvement first in assisting the Dutch establishing the NEI government-in-exile on its soil and consequently its involvement in the unfolding conflict saw many Australians actively or passively engaged with an international issue. For the first time Australia played an important role as an independent country on issues that were on many occasions not supported by the British.
After an initial alignment on the issue of Dutch New Guinea, cold war politics saw again Australia shifting its alliance from the Netherlands to Indonesia.
West New Guinea
|Until 1949, West New Guinea was part of NEI and for that reason Indonesia claimed it as part of their territory. The Dutch argued that it was a totally different ethnic country and that is should not be included in the transfer of sovereignty; it also used some historic agreements to strengthen its case. As had been negotiated by Australia, Indonesia accepted this under the condition that it would be discussed later.
However, follow up negotiations didn’t lead to a solution, while the Indonesian concessions went further than those offered by the Dutch the overarching political mood in the Netherlands was that in one way or another New Guinea should stay part of the Dutch Commonwealth.
While Australia initially supported Indonesia’s claim its position changed once Sukarno started to distance itself more from the West and it was feared that the country would come under the influence of communism.Australia didn’t want a communist state at its borders.
The New Guinea issue was a key reason why Indonesia in 1957 unilaterally ended the Netherlands-Indonesian Union.
Belatedly the Dutch now started to increase its governance, education and healthcare activities in New Guinea – aimed at preparing it for self-determination – and my aunt Annie Budde was part of this activity, but there were never enough resources and time to prepare the local population for this. Sukarno played his cards well he started negotiations with the USSR for the supply of heavy military equipment that so far, the USA had refused to sell to Indonesia. Soon after that President John F Kennedy proclaimed that he would put New Guinea on his personal agenda.
The USA influenced the UN and Australia changed its position in favour of the demands of Indonesia. The Black Armada boycott was reinstated and Dutch ships on their way to New Guinea were not serviced in Australian ports. On August 15, 1962 the Dutch handed over West New Guinea to the UN and a year later they handed it over to Indonesia. The promised referendum for self-determination was rigged in such a way that in 1969 New Guinea became a province of Indonesia.
As so many others, my aunt – till her death in 2009 – kept supporting a Free Papua. Eventually – and this could take a long time – this will happen in a similar way that Indonesia got its independence from the Netherlands, through the will of their people.