Jakarta ‘at fault’ for displacing Chinese

THE Indonesian government is to be blamed for ethnic Chinese studying abroad and taking up citizenship in countries like Singapore because of its past discriminatory practices, Education and Culture Minister Juwono Sudarsono said yesterday.

“I told President Habibie during meetings that it was basically our fault for displacing the Chinese,” he told The Straits Times in an interview. “It is time we recognise our mistakes and not blame everything on the Chinese.”

He said that the former regime in particular pursued a policy of imposing a 10 per cent limit on Chinese entry into the medical, engineering, science and legal studies in universities.

It was not difficult to predict the response of a minority group that was not given equal opportunities, he said. “Many went abroad to study and later resided with their families in countries like Singapore and Australia because of the opportunities given to them and later their children in these places.”

He said Justice Minister Muladi had brought to Dr B.J. Habibie’s attention the large number of Chinese Indonesians studying and staying in Singapore. Some had been called up for national service in the Republic.

A 1958 law stipulates that Indonesians will have their citizenship revoked if they are inducted in the military service of a foreign country. Dual citizenship is also not allowed.

Dr Habibie, who was trained in Germany, had become concerned about the “divided loyalties” of Indonesians. In December, he wanted to ban Indonesians from studying abroad but changed his mind subsequently.

Professor Juwono said Jakarta’s policy now was to revoke the passports of those who had done national service or were holding another citizenship. Those who wanted to keep their passports and were invited to do national service in Singapore had to get permission from the Justice Ministry.

“We don’t lose much if 50 or 60 of our citizens become nationals of another state. It’s a small percentage and we can live with that.”

Indonesia’s ambassador to Singapore H. Mantiri had said last month that his embassy was collecting data on Indonesians who were doing national service in the Republic. He has yet to announce its findings.

Prof Juwono said he had advised Dr Habibie that the only way to keep Indonesians, especially the ethnic Chinese, in the country was to discard past practices in the education system.

Dr Habibie has pledged to eradicate biases against the Chinese, who number between eight and 10 million. Political observers charge that institutional and social discrimination is still prevalent because the government has yet to remove the legal basis of such practices.

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