West Papua is often described as “remote”, a handy word conveying two meanings: a pristine place for an exotic holiday and too far away for most people to give a damn. The Jakarta Post gives as its first reason for visiting this wonderland, “Dive with Friendly Whale Sharks”. Number 8 on the list is gawking at friendly natives, naturally including, for wannabe great explorers, “some that have never been in contact”. It’s exotic but safe, or so Number 9 implies because you can swim among “thousands of stingless jellyfish”. Unfortunately, the Indonesian military isn’t as innocuous as the blobby water creatures. To confirm this, you only need to read the Yale Law School report titled “Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control”. This genocide continues today, largely because the “international community” and its media are as spineless as the jellyfish. The Guardian, for example, sneakily blames the West Papuans for their suffering: a “secessionist campaign has run for decades”.
The fact that remote places are a law unto themselves, or at least unto the musclemen running them, has quite an appeal for people like Elon Musk who like doing their thing without too much scrutiny. And for regimes like Indonesia’s, it’s handy to have a billionaire celebrity with a bizarre project to put a bit of celebrity gloss on its militarized barbarity, or to distract from it. Last December, Indonesian president Joko Widodo offered Musk part of Biak island (population, at least 140,000) to play with his SpaceX project (and bugger the traditional hunting grounds that will be devastated by the process of blasting-off of 12,000 satellites, if he actually gets the launches to work).