Sat, 27 Aug 1994

Succes of Chinese may incite racism

JAKARTA (JP): The economic success of ethnic Chinese businessmen in Indonesia is causing material jealousy, and this may disrupt national stability.

"The success of ethnic Chinese businessmen in the economic sector, especially those in the big cities, has caused a large material gap," Maj. Gen. Hari Sabarno, the Armed Forces' (ABRI) assistant of socio-political affairs, said here yesterday.

Speaking at a seminar on Indonesian-Chinese Trade and Investment Relations, Hari saw the ethnic Chinese businessmen's domination of the economy as a potential threat to national unity since it remained a vulnerable source of racial sentiment.

When left unresolved, the material disparities will create social turmoil among the people, he remarked.

During the final session of the two-day seminar at the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel, the discussion of the panel turned to the issue of the ethic Chinese in Indonesia.

The panel was made up of noted scholar Abdurrachman Wahid, China's ambassador to Jakarta Qian Yongnian and the chairman of the Association of Indonesia-China Economic, Social and Cultural Cooperation (AICESCC) Sukamdani Gitosarjono.

Of the total population of over 180 million, there are an estimated five to six million ethnic Chinese living throughout the country. Though they hold Indonesian citizenship, their domination of the state economy has caused hostility to be directed against them.

Ethnic Chinese conglomerates such as Liem Sioe Liong, Eka Tjipta Widjaja, Prajogo Pangestu and Rachman Halim are but a few of those which tower over the nation's economy.


According to Hari, the ethnic Chinese have enjoyed special privileges in business since the time of Dutch colonial rule, allowing them to gain quick control of Indonesian commerce.

Because of their domination of the economy, which has extended through the 49-years of Indonesian independence, a brewing anti- Chinese sentiment still looms, evoking racial and sometimes religious tension.

"The exclusiveness of Indonesians of Chinese descent who band together in enclosed groups, combined with the unaccommodating attitude of other Indonesians, create these tendencies," Hari explained.

Sukamdani acknowledged the potential for conflict in this area when he said "our people are very prone to jealousy."

He called on the general public to change their attitudes and accept the achievements of the ethnic Chinese and treat them the same way as other Indonesians.

"We have to rightfully acknowledge their success in the economic field," Sukamdani said. He added that Indonesians of Chinese descent should be judged by where they were born, not where their ancestors were from.

Abdurrachman concurred, saying that he himself had Chinese blood but now considered himself to be fully Indonesian.

I can still identify my Chinese ancestors who probably came some 17 generations before me, said the popular Moslem scholar, more affectionately known as Gus Dur.

In his typical fashion, Gus Dur said that both Chinese and non-Chinese have something to gain by learning to be compatible with each other.

"We should facilitate assimilation without forcing it," he said.


Elaborating his views on Chinese-Indonesians' ties with their ancestral homeland, Hari pointed to last year's Second World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention as a prime example of how culture plays a commanding role in economic and even political relationships.

Evaluating on the conference, Hari said the accords and statements made during the Convention psychologically yielded to a disagreeable response from non-ethnic Chinese.

He felt that the conference clearly demonstrated the strength of the Chinese ethnic solidarity.

"It is clear why the Indonesians of Chinese descent find it difficult to fully assimilate with the Indonesian culture," Hari said.

He urged close attention to the matter since Indonesia has for the last decade opened trade links with the People's Republic of China.

"We have to make concerted efforts so that the ethnic Chinese here feel that they are Indonesian nationals and not 'overseas Chinese' who, when dealing with businessmen from China, are compelled to succumb to their motherland," Hari added.

Ambassador Qian Yongnian said that his government has no political or economic aspirations whatsoever towards the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia.

"In our economic and trade dealings with Indonesia we do not discriminate between Chinese and locals," he asserted.(mds)