Fri, 03 Dec 1999

RI to remove barriers for visa applicants from China

By Kornelius Purba

BEIJING (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid criticized Indonesia's overly-strict immigration regulations for Chinese citizens entering Indonesia, saying the tight policy was merely a ruse to extort money from visa applicants.

Abdurrahman, on the second day of his state visit here, said on Thursday that upon his return to Jakarta he would summon immigration officials to order the abolishment of prevailing restrictions which often extorted money from visa applicants from China.

"It's clear that there should be no more barriers for people from China entering Indonesia, and we must eliminate all unnecessary obstacles," he said briefing Indonesian journalists.

Citing a complaint from a close friend, Abdurrahman claimed during one incident a visa applicant from China had to bribe an official US$400 in order to gain entrance to Indonesia.

The President did not reveal who his friend was.

"The difficulties in obtaining a visa are abused by many irresponsible officials who charge up to $400 per visa. It is no longer tolerable," Abdurrahman said.

Abdurrahman has gone out of his to make sure that China is his first official state visit despite already visiting 13 countries.

The theme of his visit so far has been to erase perceptions of anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly as a result of the May 1998 riots.

The President repeatedly pledged his commitment to fair and equal treatment for all and called on Indonesians of Chinese descent who fled the country to return.

Jakarta and Beijing only resumed diplomatic ties in 1990 after being frozen since 1967, two years after an abortive communist coup which Indonesia claimed at the time involved China.

In a separate meeting on Thursday with about 200 members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) who especially flew to China with him, Abdurrahman reiterated his determination to end discriminative practices.

According to Abdurrahman, the issue was also raised by Chinese President Jiang Zemin during their talks on Wednesday.

Markus Alim, chairman of Maspion group, told Abdurrahman that the complicated visa procedures discouraged many Chinese businessmen from investing in Indonesia.

Kadin chairman Aburizal Bakrie said that according to the current system, Chinese citizens, including tourists, who apply for a visa at the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing must have their request first sent to Jakarta for approval from the immigration directorate general and from the Coordinating Intelligence Agency (Bakin).

Abdurrahman remarked that it was nonsense to still be haunted by the communist threat while the international community and even the communists themselves had lost their faith in their ideology.

"I think its only us who are still officious in making it a problem," he remarked, adding that he would also revoke regulations banning restrictions on the development of Chinese culture, including a ban on the use of Chinese characters.

The President also used the opportunity on Thursday to announce the appointment of businessman Sofyan Wanandi as head of the newly established Business Development Body which will be assigned to advise the President on business affairs.

When asked by journalists, Sofyan said he was surprised by the announcement.

Abdurrahman, accompanied by First Lady Sinta Nuriyah, had a medical checkup in the morning at the Ophthalmological Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He said the hospital would send Prof. Tang, a respected ophthalmologist, to stay for up to four months in Jakarta to cure the president's failing eyesight and to train Indonesian doctors on traditional Chinese medical treatment.

"After the checkup it was concluded that there is still hope for me to see again," Abdurrahman said.

On Friday, the President is scheduled to give a lecture at the Beijing University on Indonesia-China relations, before attending Friday prayers at Niujie Mosque.