Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Chinese in Their Eyes
With the advent of the reform era, the Chinese in Indonesia have greater freedom. They freely express their culture while actively engaged in political and social programs. But has the discrimination they once experienced ended? How have they associated with indigenous people so far? Below are the views of several leading figures.
(General Chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce & Industry-Kadin)
"Lessons from May incident"
The mass rioting in May 1998 has given various lessons to ethnic Chinese citizens. My fellow Chinese businessmen have now realized that so far there has been something they need to change. They are aware of the necessity to communicate and associate more with indigenous members of society.
I notice a lot of highly nationalist ethnic Chinese businessmen. They even regret some friends who left Indonesia following the incident and refuse to return home. Several of my own friends, including Christianto Wibisono, chose to reside overseas after the rioting.
The Chinese businessmen sometimes also deplore the legal infringements made by their partners, which also harm their interests. Therefore, they don't hesitate to demand that the government punish their associates.
Don't be mistaken: the Chinese circles themselves are not united. I realized the presence of several business organizations when Kadin needed a chairman for its China committee. There turned out to be four Chinese business and cultural bodies that were never in concord. I told them that we wanted a Chinese committee chief in Kadin, whether an indigenous citizen or Chinese descendant. They agreed and applauded. Finally, Kiki Barki, a mining entrepreneur and engineering graduate of Beijing University, was elected.
I still see some ethnic Chinese with a closed attitude. They should be open to society. I myself never discriminate between ethnic origins. Two of my three secretaries are Chinese and Catholic.
"Some live exclusively"
I don't see any difference between citizens of Chinese stock and indigenous ones. Everything is OK. Now both groups are equal and can do what they like. They have equal rights. In the world of artists, I notice no difference either. In mingling with people, I don't discriminate Chinese friends from others. Everybody is fine.
But to be frank, I still see ethnic Chinese communities who live exclusively. They are apparently unwilling to associate with indigenous people. I don't know their number because no surveys have yet been conducted. Such an exclusive life is not good, so I hope they can abandon this practice. It's also necessary to prevent a recurrence of the May 1998 mass rioting.
Indonesian society is composite, with diverse ethnic backgrounds and customs. We all should understand this, including the Chinese offspring. They need to be aware of the other indigenous customs in Indonesia. Both sides should respect each other. In this manner, we can live as good neighbors peacefully, without provoking acts that may be mutually harmful.
(Cultural Observer & Politician)
"Only political change"
I've witnessed a change in the whole ethnic Chinese community in the last few years. Now the Chinese are free to celebrate the Lunar New Year or speak their language. But I see the change as momentary, only political. We indeed advocate assimilation, but in reality it's still hard to carry out.
In the economic sector, monopoly in trade is undeniably still practiced by Chinese entrepreneurs. This case mostly remains unchanged. I'm sure, though a minority, they also realize their economic domination. It must be changed. There should be an awareness to abandon such disgraceful practices.
We also still hear many businessmen of Chinese descent protesting against the discriminatory treatment they experience, but on the other hand they make the same discrimination. An example is in the selection or treatment of employees.
I believe assimilation will solve the issue. The importance of assimilation should be realized by both sides and the government should play an active part, instead of spoiling it. It has been common knowledge that many officials maintain special connections with Chinese businessmen. They are used to serve economic interests. This is dangerous because negative sentiments toward the Chinese community may arise.
(Entrepreneur, VP Candidate)
"They should help small enterprises"
After the introduction of reforms, the issue of discrimination against citizens of Chinese stock has been overcome. They have increasing freedom to do what they want and express their culture. This is a major advancement compared with five to 10 years ago. It's because the government has adopted a number of policies previously never announced.
Nonetheless, I hope they will fully help bring about a favorable business climate. I ask them to actively contribute to the elimination of delinquent players or businessmen as well as arrogant entrepreneurs. I indeed hope that delinquent businessmen will be removed. Otherwise, the country will be ruined.
Strong and successful ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs should also provide aid and support for small-scale business groups, regardless of ethnic origins. We have from the beginning been determined not to discriminate against anybody. The most important thing is that we all should create and foster national harmony.
Indra J. Piliang
(Researcher of Center for Strategic & International Studies-CSIS)
"No substantive change yet"
Now I see some progress in the government treatment of ethnic Chinese people. They enjoy greater freedom of movement in society. It's reflected in the buoyant lion dance performances everywhere during the Lunar New Year celebration. Since the rule of President Abdurrahman Wahid, the Confucian belief has been recognized.
However, everything is only political and has not reached government institutions. Just take a look how the ethnic Chinese are still obliged to produce Indonesian citizenship certificates (SBKRI) as they apply for passports. So, in substantive terms there is no change yet. The main job of the government is actually to manifest this political commitment in technical administrative policies.
The rioting in May 1998 indeed has left behind a trauma to the ethnic Chinese community. But the trauma is more felt by the Chinese in Jakarta and Solo. Those outside the two areas are not much affected. Their aspirations? In fact, what the Chinese want is government stability. It's natural because part of this community comprises businessmen.