Friday, May 12, 2000
Keeping an Angry Eye on Indonesia (International Economic)
By Michael Shari in Jakarta
Business Week (October 9, 2000)
Christianto Wibisono might have been sitting at Indonesia's head table. In the spring of 1998, then President B.J. Habibie offered to back him for a seat in the national legislature. A year later, the next President, Abudurrahman Wahid, asked if he wanted to be Finance Minister. Wibisono, a political scientist who headed an influential Jakarta financial research agency, had to decline: He had already fled his homeland.
Indeed, instead of helping Indonesia recover from the trauma of economic collapse and political upheaval, Wibisono has become one of the Jakarta regime's most persistent gadflies. An ethnic Chinese, he is now the informal head and chief organizer of a group of academics, professionals, and business people--numbering in the thousands--who left Indonesia after extensive attacks against the Chinese in the May, 1998, rioting. He and his fellow expatriates are waiting until the government puts a stop to continuing harassment against the Chinese. "I will not return to Indonesia unless there's a trial on the May incident and other crimes against humanity by the Nazi-type regime," vows Wibisono.
The Indonesian exiles are scattered around the globe, from Shanghai to Sydney to Washington, D.C., where Wibisono now lives. The exiles meet in living rooms and churches and exchange e-mails to discuss their common goal: an end to the military-orchestrated terror.
Wibisono's family got a bitter taste of the anti-Chinese violence. In 1998, rioters attacked the Pantai Indah Kapuk luxury housing complex in Jakarta, where his then pregnant daughter Jasmine lived. Some 10,000 people, led by men suspected of being soldiers, burned down 50 houses and torched 140 cars. "It was like Bosnia, Beirut, or Belfast," says Wibisono. His daughter and other terrified residents cowered on a golf course while marauders made away with truckloads of sofas, motorcycles, refrigerators, and other loot, says Surjadi Kosiasih, a neighbor.
Wibisono then received an anonymous letter that read: "You're lucky your daughter's house was burned down. Next time we'll cut off your head." Wibisono suspects the threatening letter was penned by military intelligence officers angered by the work of his company, the Indonesian Business Data Center. The research firm published one of the most comprehensive reports on the ill-gotten wealth of deposed strongman Suharto.
In Washington, Wibisono runs the consulting firm Indowatch, which provides information on Indonesian business. He also lobbies the U.S. government to link trade to Indonesia's human rights record. So far, Wibisono thinks he's had little impact on the "rogue elite" he says still runs his country. "They're still racist," he says. "There's no repentance." As long as that sentiment prevails, it's unlikely Indonesia will be able to lure back the ethnic Chinese business community and its money.