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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK

On the role of ethnic Chinese

The target for much of the recent violence in Indonesia has been the ethnic Chinese population. Though only a small minority of Indonesians are ethnic Chinese, they control a large share of the nation's wealth. Many Chinese Indonesians have fled the country. Others have e-mailed their views to BBC News online

Hesty, Chinese Indonesian
What happened in Indonesia for the last few days is an outright violation of human rights against the Chinese Indonesians. This event is just an epitome of what's happening there for the last few decades. Chinese Indonesians have been severely oppressed and cannot express their interest in the government at all. Also to those human rights organisations who are jumping all over the East Timor issue, but seemingly fail to notice these blatant violations of human rights against Chinese Indonesian.

Malaysian who wishes to remain anonymous because he wishes to return to Indonesia
I have been working in Indonesia for more than five years. To me the Chinese Indonesians are the most tragic group of any nationalities. Being Indonesians, but always conviently used as scape goats for any ills of the country.

During the riots of the 14th May, I was monitoring the situations via 'Sonora', the tollroad radio. It was apparent that the riots were well organised. I am suspecting that these were linked to the Army faction of Prawobo, the President's powerful son-in-law. By targetting the ethnic Chinese, the element achieved the followings

  • The perception that the ills of the country are basically caused by the Chinese.
  • Appease the indigenious
  • So the army had an excuse to shoot and kill the peaceful demonstrations of the university students, who know the roots of the problems.

There was a strong force coordinating all these activities.

Lie Fhung an Indonesian born Chinese-Indonesian

My father was born in China while my mother was a third, fourth generation born in Indonesia. I was born and raised in Jakarta and now living in Bandung.

I'm lucky to be surrounded by non-racist families and friends; in fact, most of my closest friends are Indonesian-natives. They are very kind and loyal to me as best friends would. I don't even have to change my name to Indonesian to be accepted in any native-Indonesians society.

If we see ourselves as one of them, as one nation, as fellow Indonesians, more often than not they will treat you like one. A member of the Chinese community in Jakarta e-mailed us with his perceptions of the events on his doorstep. He preferred not to give his full name for fear of reprisals
I am indeed a minority with Chinese background unfortunately. It is terrifying to see those mad people trashing and looting at will, without even considering the safety of the others.

What I regret is that they are not helping the situation unlike in Korea or Thailand, where the level of education is higher. What they ought to do is to fight against the government directly to demand full reformation. What they are doing is nonsense and useless.

An Indonesian e-mailed from Bogata, Colombia to make this comment
Over the racial discrimination against the Chinese minority issue which is escalating in the last four days, although the recent actions against the Chinese are not honourable actions, I can understand the frustration amongst the native Indonesians (like myself) as many Chinese are too arogant and often look down towards the natives.

For instance in one incident I experienced myself, a Chinese did not want to seat next to a native Indonesian because of racial ground.

Amir Mohd, Singapore
The rioting in Indonesia which led to targeting the Chinese businesses is more than economic crises.

The sentiments run deep of the indigenous Indonesians who are always at the disadvantage over the Chinese community in businesses have long been felt. Suharto whose deceased wife was a Chinese naturally seems to favour the Chinese in economic aspects.

The Chinese people are natural business people. This close knitted community has been long known that their objective of life is to accumulate as much wealth as possible. The Suharto's government failure to give equal business opportunities to the indigenous people has led the hatred to the Chinese.

AP Tan a Chinese born Indonesian living in Belgium responds directly
I do not agree with the comment of Mr Amir Mohd for his opinion that Suharto give a favour to Chinese in economic aspects. The national car case, and cartels controlled by Suharto family and relative have killed so many Chinese business. They look like they favour Chinese in economics, but basically is for their own favour.

I had lived for 27 years in Indonesia, and I had work for a big six consultant so I know how the business work in Indonesia. Almost in every business, the first family have ownership, and they use Chinese as their partner because foreing investor and foreign customer prefer to do business with Chinese than Suharto family.

Name withheld for security reasons as my family is still there
The whole world seems to have forgotten, if not purposely ignored, the other victims of the last few days of rioting in Indonesia, the poor Chinese Indonesians. Not all Chinese-Indonesians are rich and living in well protected areas ...

The panicking Chinese-Indonesians trapped there are asking and giving each other advice on how to protect themselves, how to make protective weapons, etc. These people are living in fear and nobody cares.

Nobody is protecting them and if they are killed tomorrow in a new upheaval, the news around the world would again read: 'The 5% wealthy Chinese-Indonesian minority owning up to 80% of the country wealth is again the target of the frustrated poverty striven Indonesians'

Vernon Lee, Singapore
As a Singapore citizen, the riots that have occured in Indonesia struck a sense of unease amongst Singaporeans. Many of us Chinese in Singapore felt a sense of deep outrage against the ethnic Indonesians who have time and time again vented their pent-up economic woes against their much richer Chinese compatriots.

The biggest regret so far is that the Indonesian leadership has not appealed explicitly to the mobs to avoid venting their frustration on the Chinese. However, this is to be expected in a country where Chinese are not allowed to study their language and adopt their Chinese names , and banned from practising any forms of Chinese culture.

Indonesian Chinese who grew up in Indonesia
I was in Indonesia 1965 during another riot. Of course I am very sad about the whole situation, but I also feel the Chinese is not blameless. What you sow is what you reap. Of course it is the story of chicken and egg, who start first.

The rich (both Chinese and native) should have shared their wealth to bring the education and standard of living up for the majority.

Anonymous from Bintaro, Jakarta
The history is against the Chinese Indonesians, along with the current system that favors pribumi in practically all the field except money making enterprises. However, I have come to view especially during this chaotic situation that both native and Chinese Indonesian can work together to help forming a neighbourhood watch and guarding our housing complex throughout the day and night for the past two days against rioters have instilled in me a great sense of belonging and solidarity among both the native and Chinese Indonesian in my neighbourhood. I urge and ask all my fellow Indonesians to put back all their personal bad experiences behind, and brace the future with trust, courage, and lots of hard work. As the saying goes, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Indonesian businessman living in the US
The new Indonesian government should implement the one motto in the country's constitution: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity. The current practice of using ethnic diversity to stoke up ethnic hatred against each other: the Javanese against the Timorese, the Chinese Indonesians and the Acehnese, etc., is blatant betrayal of the country's constitution.

Steve Dudley in Indonesia
For certain, the treatment of Indonesians of Chinese ancestry is deplorable. However I feel that the treatment of "real Indonesians" , Javanese, by the Chinese merchants is just as deplorable. How many times have we seen prices unfairly, if not unnecessarily, raised by Chinese merchants. The merchants, during good times, squeeze every single last resource out of the Javanese and then cry foul when decades of this type of treatment results in a backlash.

Frankly it appears to me that President Suharto's sin is that he is, in the mind of his people, too closely alligned with Chinese business interests.

Indonesian Chinese should integrate and accept the Indonesian state principles of Pancasila. Too many times we hear shop owners saying, "It is not personal, it is business" as they unfairly treat the normally highly tolerant and calm Javanese. You can only push some one so far.

Fourteen years ago, when first I arrived in Indonesia, my Javanese driver told me that he cared nothing for who was President. He also cared nothing for who owned the shops and stores. All this with the caveat that as long as he could have a job, feed his family and provide education for his children. The rest he could take with a smile. However if those needs were denied he often stated he knew exactly who to blame for his problems. Chinese and those who allign with them.

Actually, Chinese Indonesians should be called Indonesian Chinese. Javanese however never use the word Indonesian positively in the same breath with the word Chinese.

This is not the first ethnic group in the world to pay in blood for standing out from the crowd in the name of business. Maybe it is just time to pay the piper.

Watching the trouble at home with sadness:Chinese Indonesians studying in the United States.Ruth Chia writes:
We are Indonesian students in United States. Unfortunately, we are the MINORITIES, we are....CHINESE. We feel that this incident is really unfair to us as MINORITIES, because the CHINESE are always the SCAPEGOATS if something terrible happenes in Indonesia. We think that Suharto SHOULD NOT STEP DOWN. However, he should reform his cabinet a.s.a.p. We think that the natives did a really "STUPID" thing by burning the Chinese's shops and houses. We think that this is not an economics problem anymore, but mainly a RACISM problem.

We got news from our friend that he was asked to take off his helmet by the natives to see whether or not he is a CHINESE or native. Actually he is a Chinese, but he was safe because he looks like a native Indonesian.

We know that the army did not do the right thing by shooting the college students (Trisakti University, Jakarta). But, we think, the students also took part in that, so, it wasn't wholey the army's fault. But, the conclusion is that, we know that the students have their rights to demonstrate and feel sad for what has happened. But we think that it was not necessary for other people (especially the natives to use this opportunity to do other NASTY things, such as robbery, arson, murder, etc.

They did not really want to make this country better, but make it worse. They did not try to solve the problem, but instead of that, they put more problem. Such a stupid thing to do. We hope this incident will end in a short time, because we are afraid of our families. How can we study well if this thing keeps on going? And this is really unfair to CHINESE. Why didn't they just focus on their people (natives), instead of us as CHINESE? (I mean, by burning their own shops and houses, and killing their own friends, the NATIVES).

I wish they could think better. I hope GOD will forgive them. We hope that Suharto will do better in governing this country. We will pray for that. And we also hope that it is useless to blame Suharto for not governing the country well. Thank You. Please pray for Indonesia, everybody. Hope that thing will getting better, and no more people, especially CHINESE will get hurt.

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