Monday, October 25, 2004

Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (40 of 40)

Radio Australia
October 21, 2004

INDONESIA: Ethnic Chinese Fear Discriminatory Economic Policies

As Indonesia's new leadership team confronts the challenge of revitalising the country's moribund economy, concern is being expressed in some quarters about how the government plans to implement reform. Indonesia's ethnic Chinese are especially worried that they could be the victims of discriminatory economic policies. Changes have been foreshadowed by the new vice-president, Jusuf Kalla.

Presenter/Interviewer: Marion MacGregor

Speakers: Edi Lembong, Chairman of the Chinese Indonesian Association; Sofyan Wanandi, Indonesian Chamber of Commerce; Jusuf Kalla, Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia (2004-2009).

MacGregor: Jusuf Kalla is no stranger to controversy. He was kicked out of the Indonesia's biggest party Golkar for running alongside Golkar rival Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Now as the president's second in command, the 62-year old businessman will have plenty of opportunities to stir the pot.

In the weeks before the September poll, Jusuf Kalla made it clear in his typical direct style that Indonesia's Chinese minority simply wasn't big enough to make it onto the election campaign radar.

Kalla: The Chinese community is only three or four percent in this country. In economics they are very important, but in elections three percent I mean not so important compared with the others.

MacGregor: What's worrying many Chinese Indonesians now is how that approach will translate into policy over the next few years. They've become especially jittery since the Jakarta daily, 'Sinar Harapan', quoted the vice-president last week saying he was considering changes to lending policies, that would lower interest rates on loans to a group mainly comprised of Pribumi or majority Indonesian businesspeople. As Jusuf Kalla explained in that pre-election interview, he wants a level playing field.

Kalla: We need affirmative action to increase the SMEs, Small and Medium Enterprises, to get a balance in economy, harmony in economy. Chinese community don't like that policy.

MacGregor: Not true, according to the chairman of the Chinese Indonesian Association, Edi Lembong.

Lembong: We, the Chinese Indonesian association genuinely and wholeheartedly would like to support the facilitating of weaker economic group, but without making any distinction based on ethnicity. Practically we have to admit, the truth that most of the weaker economic group belong to the so-called pribumi people, but we reject the idea of based on ethnicity.

MacGregor: So if the weaker economic group that was predominantly made up of indigenous or pribumi traders were offered soft loans, you wouldn't be against that?

Lembong: No, because there are also many many poor Chinese business people.

MacGregor: Even though by Jusuf Kalla's own admission, it would be 'pribumi' Indonesians who would benefit most from the changes, he denies that they're ethnically-based. At the same time he says the policy would reduce discrimination against Chinese Indonesians, whose economic success he says was what led to riots in 1998 in which over a thousand Chinese Indonesians died.

Kalla: Because this is important see for Chinese, if too many gap between small and medium usually Chinese, every five years there are firing, there are conflicts. This means for the security of Chinese, needed affirmative action.

MacGregor: That's a position that the Indonesian Chinese Association strongly rejects.

Lembong: We certainly will not agree with him about his analysis that the May riots of '98 was a direct cause of the gap between the wealthy and the poor people. We don't agree with his vision.

MacGregor: Some of Jusuf Kalla's critics are also concerned that he's trying to re-introduce a variation of the so-called Sistem Benteng, created by founding president Sukarno... a system that provided direct loans to pribumi business people and gave them control over the distribution of food.

But Sofyan Wanandi, who chairs the economic recovery committee of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce says those claims have no basis.

Sofyan: During Sukarno time there was policies that the government is doing against discrimination against the Chinese community, and giving a lot of facilities to the pribumis. You know the problem now what everybody is talking about Jusuf Kalla according to me is not true, that he would like to come back to that old process. You know he's a businessman sometimes he is too direct, but cannot explain that in the right way and that creates a misjudgement also from the Chinese community about him. And according to me it's quite fair enough, but I don't believe there will be a policy from the government to discriminate and have a racial policy specially against the Chinese, I don't believe that.

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