Return of ethnic Chinese ‘critical’

No large-scale foreign investments for Indonesia as long as they stay away, President Habibie now concedes.

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie has conceded that large-scale foreign investment will return only if the ethnic Chinese put their money back into the country.

In an interview in the latest edition of the Hongkong-based Asian Affairs journal, he also maintained that his administration was doing its best to alleviate the concerns of the battered Chinese-Indonesian community.

“Let me say first that in my set of values, I make no difference between our people,” he said. “The ethnic Chinese in Indonesia are Indonesian. There is no question about that.”

Asked whether he shared the views of financial analysts, who have concluded that there will be no large-scale foreign investments as long as the ethnic Chinese stayed away, he replied: “I agree.”

His comments appear to contradict earlier statements he made that the return of ethnic Chinese was not critical to the Indonesian economy.

In an interview with the Washington Post last July, he had said: “If the Chinese community doesn’t come back because they don’t trust their own country and society, I cannot force, nobody can force them.

“But do you think that we will then die? Their place will be taken over by others.”

Since last year’s May riots, in which ethnic Chinese neighbourhoods and businesses were looted systematically, thousands of them have left the country.

Political observers suggest that the softening of Dr Habibie’s stance was largely a result of the continued precarious state of the economy and its political knock-on effect. During the interview, he assuaged concerns that his government was doing little to protect the 10 million Chinese Indonesians, highlighting efforts to eliminate state-sanctioned racial discrimination by removing special codes for ethnic Chinese on their identity cards.

The government also passed a decree last September, instructing all officials to “end the usage of the term pribumi and non-pribumi” and to provide equal treatment and service to all.

Said Dr Habibie: “Before, the Chinese descendants had the word ‘Chinese’ on their ID card. I find this disparaging. They are as Indonesian as I am.

“I provoked a lot of protest, but so what? I had to do it. The point is that, the Chinese have been hijacked for political purposes and they have been misused by my predecessors and there are still people willing to misuse them.”

But Dr Habibie’s critics charge that discrimination is still present, despite publicly declared policies against it.

Another sore point for many is Jakarta’s apparent “lax attitude” in its investigations to May’s ethnic riots and the rapes against Indonesian-Chinese women.

Responding to why it was taking so long for Jakarta to get to the bottom of things, he said: “I don’t have a full picture of what happened. I am not sure we will have it before the election. What we have seen in May is not the face of Indonesia. We are still ascertaining what happened, who engineered it. We know it was engineered. That is all we know.”

Posted in Indonesia