A deeper understanding of Hatta’s view about Papua

(Photo Credit: Kompasiana.com)

The first Indonesian Vice President, Mohammad Hatta’s view in before the Indonesian Independence Preparation Board or BPUPKI about his rejection of Papua to become part of the Indonesian territory after independence is indeed often discussed in online media. This is not false news because that was the position of Bung Hatta, the VP was commonly known, at that time, and of course, this is not a new issue.

Any news and information related to Bung Hatta’s views, of course, especially about Papua, are things that are necessary to be reported so that the Indonesian public understands their history well.

That perspective, though, about Hatta’s Papua rejection, has become an essential reference for pro-Papuan independence groups, both Papuans and non-Papuans, as a reference to their arguments about the history of Papua in the debate of the founders of the Indonesian nation.

At the BPUPKI session in 1945, Hatta was involved in a debate about Papua with other Indonesia’s founding fathers, Mohammad Yamin and Soekarno. During the session, Hatta argued that Papuans were a Melanesian race different from most other Indonesians who were Malay, so they the Papuans could determine their destiny as a nation.

How should we better comprehend this debate? If we read Hatta’s arguments carefully, we may reveal that he was not willing to accept nor reject Papua just yet, especially during the BPUPKI session.

Such a position can be clearly seen in many parts of Hatta’s opinion and move, which later instead made it possible that Papua eventually became part of Indonesian. In the detailed description below, we will discuss it further.


Before continuing this discussion, we need to understand that in 1949 Hatta himself led the Indonesian delegation in the KMB or The Dutch–Indonesian Round Table Conference to propose Papua, then-western new guinea, to become a part of the Indonesian territory. It looks like just a brief story of history, of course. However, Hatta’s opinion must be seen as follows:

Firstly, we need to assess the political situation and condition of the prospective Indonesian country when the BPUPKI sessions were held between in May and July 1945. What was called independence for Indonesia was relied on the Japanese promise and was not about fighting for independence from the Netherlands.

During the BPUPKI sessions, Indonesia was part of the Japanese colonial empire, while Papua at that time was controlled by the Dutch, thus the Allies. So legally speaking, the two territories were in two different territorial control powers.

Thus from the condition of the country’s territory formation, it will be difficult to force Japanese-controlled Indonesia to let Papua in the territory of Indonesia. Because, for Hatta (per our interpretation here) if Papua were outside the jurisdiction of Japanese Indonesia based on the “law” of the war, the inclusion of Papua would be a hurdle in requiring international recognition for independence.

Back then, it can be understood that the independence and territory that our founding fathers were fighting for was initially very dependent on the Japanese promise. At that time, the Dai Nippon promised independence to the people and leaders of Indonesia after the war. The Japanese promise trustworthiness can be seen from the founding of BPUPKI which, any historians will argue, was formulated the forerunner of the formation and territory of incoming Indonesia.

This institution discussed freely or not influenced by the Japanese government’s direct intervention regarding the future of an independent Indonesian country later. This included any areas projected to be part of the Indonesian territory.

At that time Yamin categorized Papua together with Morotai, Halmahera and Tarakan Kalimantan as war zones, which were still controlled by the Allies and the Dutch and were being fought by the Japanese.

While the regions outside, namely Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Java, Nusa Tenggara and Bali, Maluku, are the Occupationis Terra Belli areas or areas controlled by Japan. Therefore, these areas were mentioned as the first, prioritized embryo of the Indonesian territory.

While Yamin considered the four other war zones controlled by the Dutch as the second priority, which would become the territory of Indonesia. So basically, there were also areas outside Papua that have not been confirmed to be part of the Indonesian country because of their status at the time.

For your information, during the 1960s Konfrontasi, Bung Karno fired a massive campaign that the north Borneo, now part of Malaysia, should become part of Indonesia because he strongly believed that the area could become part of Indonesia.

The first category as a prospective territory of Indonesia was the entire former Dutch East Indies territory under Japanese rule at that time. (Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, Nusatenggara, Bali). That is why in the meeting Hatta said:

“At that time, I said that I did not ask for more than the regions of Indonesia that had been colonized by the Dutch. If all of them were given back to us by the Dai Nippon government, I am happy.” If you look at this opinion, then you can see that he understood the rules of the game that exist between the future country of Indonesia, Japan and the Netherlands.

Secondly, we must also read thoroughly the opinion of Hatta, which in fact was partly a response to the reasons given by Yamin and Bung Karno he could not accept as a socialist.

For Bung Karno and Yamin, in addition to the historical reasons that Papua was part of the Tidore sultanate long before the Dutch stepped on it, including Papua into Indonesia is for geopolitical reasons. If Papua were to be under Indonesia’s administration, it would be the gateway to the Pacific Ocean as well as the vanguard of defense from that direction.

This reason was opposed by Hatta, because by doing that, Indonesia was no different from the imperialist country which he had opposed. For that Papua was to be included in Indonesian territory in terms of geopolitical interests, Hatta said:

“Yesterday I heard alarming discussions about Papua that could create an impression outside that we seem to start demanding things that are rather imperialistic. Yesterday I heard the theory that Malacca and Papua were asked to join Indonesian lands based on a strategy. In my opinion about international politics, I understand that it does not stand alone and depends on the political constellation in the international environment.”

Is Hatta really the one who made that ethnic basis absolute in formulating Indonesia’s territory later? Of course, we need to re-visit again and again how Hatta’s argument was built about considering Malacca and Papua.

Yamin and Bung Karno considered both regions as candidates for the territory of the Indonesian state, but Hatta refused it. Hatta said, “For me, I prefer to see Malacca become an independent country in the Greater East Asia environment. But if the Malacca people themselves want to unite with us, I will not forbid.”

Why does Hatta think like this? Hatta realized that the Malacca region was then occupied by the British, not the Dutch, so including that area into Indonesia would be difficult to gain international recognition.

One of Hatta’s arguments to obey the international rules was also expressed when he suggested areas controlled by the Dai Nippon that were former Dutch colony should be accepted as first priority territory candidate considering the existing territory-making opportunity.

On the plan on Malacca inclusion, Hatta argued, “Therefore, my opinion, national borders are not a matter that can be determined exactly, but only a matter of opportunity, which was the correct objective. The objective was that the territory of Indonesia, which was colonized by the Dutch. It all was related to international politics that must first be recognized.”

So, Bung Hatta emphasized more on the strategy for greater opportunities to form a country because it would obtain speedy international recognition. If Papua were tried to be included at that time like Malacca, it would become an international polemic and would make Indonesia weak before international observation because the independence achieved was then to be planned as a gift from Japan.


Then, did Hatta really want Papua to become separate from Indonesia? No. Hatta instead tried to be realistic. He saw it as a possibility that could happen in the future (which he advocated during the KMB) and Papua would not need to be rejected regardless of ethnic differences as it has been argued recently by the pro-Papuan independence group.

Thus, we can see Hatta’s opinion, if Japan was able to defeat the Dutch in Papua, and then Japan would surrender Papua to Indonesia, Hatta would accept it.

“I think the Nippon forces also sacrificed much of their blood to drive out Western imperialism from Papua, Solomon, and other regions. Don’t let us just think about ourselves, give Nippon the right to determine the status of the region. …… Things about Papua I leave them to others, but if the Nippon government would give Papua, which was under the Dutch government to Indonesia, I don’t mind.”

It should be clear enough here, that of the initial non-inclusion of Papua, Hatta saw a viable opportunity to formulate a country as soon as possible, which would become Indonesia without causing many problems. If Papua was eventually to become a part of Indonesia in the future, it should be handed over by Japan if it could defeat the Dutch there. To this end, one will not see any argument for Hatta’s refusal from the standpoint of racial differences.

So, what is Hatta’s stance regarding the racial argument?

Based on Hatta’s argument, it was important for Indonesian independence to be legitimized by the international world. The argument of racial differences is an argument made to rebuff Yamin and Sukarno’s opinion that would risk Indonesian independence for losing international recognition.

In this context, we could see that Bung Hatta was being somewhat ambivalent. The famous argument against Papua’s inclusion into Indonesia due to racial differences, is in the end, not strong if not contextually baseless. Hatta in fact, based his initial Papua’s non-inclusion argument more on the rule of law of war and international recognition as well as the possibility of the next opportunity for independence given by Japan.

Hatta’s opinion of accepting Papua in Indonesian territory if it was handed over by the Dai Nippon government could be read and observed in this entire discussion here. This stance should shed a bright light on Hatta’s initial rejection of Papua that it was not about racial differences. This is the ambivalence of Hatta’s views on the forming of the territory ethnically and nationally.

So, it is not surprising then that at the Dutch–Indonesian Round Table Conference, when Hatta led the Indonesian delegation, Papua’s issue became one of the most serious agenda. Hatta’s team then based their negotiation agenda on the fact that Indonesia was back to the Netherland’s occupation.

Including Papua into Indonesia became a vital agenda because the negotiation was no longer about formulating the concept of Indonesia’s territory under Japanese rule and promises.

Bung Hatta’s team fought for the independence of all areas that are being controlled by the Dutch in the archipelago to be fully independent under the Indonesian administration. And, Papua was in that part of the Dutch-controlled territory, together with Halamhera, Morotai, and Tarakan (North Kalimantan).

Including those areas alongside other regions across the archipelago has been recognized by the uti possidetis juris law. Almost all countries in the world have recognized the law that refers to the former colonial boundaries and the historical relationship of social and cultural interaction between the territories within it, especially in this post-colonial era. (*)

Rudi kurniawan

Enriching discourse and understanding. A protest to Indonesian govt that unsuccessfully serves the world fair info about West Papua.