Somewhere in Southeast Asia, 20 March, 1998.

by: Michael Ocorandi.

1. Recent manifestations against ethnic-Chinese in Indonesia took

two forms. Firstly, Muslim activists stepped up pressure against Sofyan

Wanandi, an ethnic Chinese Indonesian, accusing him of financing a

student movement to topple the government. This was political/religious

in nature. Secondly, a wave of economically motivated riots directed

against ethnic-Chinese Indonesian swept 40 towns across the archipelago.

The crusade against Wanandi.

2. In order to understand the crusade by Muslim activists against

Sofyan Wanandi, one should go back to 1965. In 1965, after the attempted

coup in by communists in which six top anti communist generals were

brutally murdered (Suharto miraculously escaped the grisly massacre as

he went fishing all night), a coalition was born consisting of students

associated with the Catholic/Chinese, the Protestant and the Muslim

student association (the PMKRI, the GMKI and the HMI). These students

launch anti Sukarno and anti communists demonstrations. They were

backed by the anti-communist army led by Suharto, and tacitly supported

by the USA. The daily student demonstrations backed by the army,

finally brought down Sukarno, on 11 March 1972. It is no coincidence

that this year Suharto was re-elected on 11 March 1998. In the process,

pogroms by anti-communist people massacred 500,000 to 800,000 members of

the communist party and their wives and children, including babies.

3. CNN has not yet gone worldwide and anyway little mention was made

in the press because the "good guys" slaughtered the "bad guys". There

was also the six days war at the same time. Suharto was patted in the

back by the US for getting rid of the communists and doing a great favor

to the free world. Nobody in those days talked about democracy or human

rights as long as the abuse was directed against communists. Because of

the alleged role of China in the aborted coup, with whom the Communist

Party of Indonesia (PKI) was affiliated, a drive against Chinese culture

took place. Chinese written language was not allowed in public, the

celebration of Chinese New Year and other festivals were banned and the

ethnic-Chinese Indonesians were strongly "persuaded" to adopt Indonesian


4. Meanwhile, although the Catholic students constituted just a

small fraction of the Muslim students and masses, their role became all

important as, under the tutelage of a staunch anti-communist Dutch

priest Romo Beek, they mapped out the strategy of attack, and provided

Suharto's's army and the students and masses with valuable data on

communists and communist suspects from their data base, benefitting from

the network of Catholic churches throughout Indonesia. Suharto rewarded

this group with many privileges. Their leaders, including the brothers

Yusuf and Sofyan Wanandi, (Lim Bian Kie and Liem Bian Koen) were given

economic and political privileges while the think tank established by

the group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies provided

intellectual backstopping for the Suharto government and became all

powerful under General Ali Moerdopo, backed by Catholic General Benny

Moerdani. Many Muslims felt disadvantaged by Suharto who listened more

to this group than to the Muslims under the principle that Indonesia is

a secular and not a Muslim state. Habibi, a bright scholar returning

from studies in Germany, and last week named Vice President, tried to

correct the balance by establishing the ICMI (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim

Indonesia, Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association) in 1990.

Nevertheless, CSIS continued to flourish as a think tank but Suharto

listens more and more to Habibi and the Muslims.

5. Gradually, CSIS and its leaders became more and more critical of

the way the Suharto government ruled. As the economy progressed at a

rapid pace, it was accompanied by ever escalating privileges and

monopolies for Suharto's family and Chinese conglomerates. CSIS, the

principal backer of Suharto against Sukarno, quietly opposed the

government. On January 26, 1998 the Jakarta military command alleged

that Sofyan Wanandi was tied to a bomb blast involving students

associated with the outlawed People's Democracy Party. He was brought in

for questioning while more than a hundred students wearing Ararat style

scarves and white caps demanded that CSIS be closed down. Jakarta's

military commander, Syafrie Syamsuddin, said that an E-mail was found in

a laptop proving the link. Meanwhile, other prominent Muslim

personalities also stepped up the campaign against Sofyan and other

Chinese tycoons at a huge rally at Sunda Kelapa mosque in Jakarta. At

the rally outspoken anti ethnic-Chinese Indonesians like Adi Sasono,

Husein Umar, Sri Eddy Swasono and Achmad Tirtosudiro condemned

ethnic-Chinese Indonesians. A close aide to Suharto, General Syarwan

Hamid, who is considered a hard liner, also spoke against the need to

eradicate rats (obviously referring to ethnic-Chinese Indonesians). The

powerful but moderate Amien Rais, leader of the 28 million strong

Muhammadiah, a staunch government critic and not a known anti-Chinese,

reminded Syarwan that there are all kinds of rats, including big rodents

(tikus got).

6. Sofyan Wanandi, who himself is a wealthy businessman benefitting

from facilities awarded him by Suharto earlier denied the charges and

hinted that the questioning as well as the media bashing against him was

an attempt to create the impression that all ethnic-Chinese Indonesians

are subversives. The 21st Century Islam Foundation, in Bandung claimed

that Muslims have no choice but to crush these conspiratory tycoons (

referring to ethnic-Chinese Indonesians) who even dare to say that they

will bring the rupiah down to 20,000 to the dollar if anti-Chinese

Habibi were elected vice president.

The food riots.

7. The ascendancy of Suharto to political power was accompanied by

rapid and uninterrupted economic development implemented by Suharto's

government. More pats on the back for Suharto from the US, joined in by

the World Bank and IMF. The oil boom helped a lot and the

liberalization of exchange control coupled with high interest rates

brought in an avalanche of private capital including hot money into

Indonesia. Suharto and his children, in cooperation with conglomerates,

most of them of Chinese descent, all got rich and gradually became

super rich. Resentment built up among the predominantly Moslem masses

against this privileged class associated with the Suharto family and

with ethnic-Chinese and with Christians in general. The Chinese are

either Christian or Buddhist/Taoists. Sporadic but sometimes violent

riots against Chinese/Christians took place throughout the postwar

period. During 1995-97, before the financial crisis, 131 Christian

churches were attacked and untold Chinese owned shops, cars and homes

burned and/or destroyed. However, during those days, resentment could

not dislodge Suharto from power as the rapid economic development

produced a trickle down effect and living conditions improved for the

poor, almost eradicating absolute poverty, while 20 million Indonesians

became middle class (more than the entire populations of Australia or

Malaysia each).

8. This continued until July 1997 when the financial crisis suddenly

erupted, and enormous capital flowed out of Indonesia, Thailand and

South Korea leaving these countries with a shattered exchange rate and

massive private foreign debts to cope with. All three became sick ( and

to a lesser extend Malaysia and the Philippines as well) but Indonesia

became mortally ill. This was because in Indonesia the economic crisis

was aggravated by political factors including the uncertainty

surrounding Suharto's illness in December and his political future.

Beginning with the devaluation of the Thai baht on July 2, 1997, the

currency turmoil quickly spread to most countries of East and Southeast

Asia. Since July, and until the first quarter of this year, currencies

of East and Southeast Asia have depreciated an alarming manner: the

hardest hit, the Indonesian rupiah by 78%, the Thai baht by 50% and the

Korean won by 42%.

9. After having enjoyed rising per capita incomes over a period of

three decades in which absolute poverty was almost eradicated, the poor

people suffered when the rupiah plunged from Rp.2,500 to the dollar in

July 1998 to Rp.10,000 today. Unemployment soared while the nine

essential commodities including rice skyrocketed in price. As if to add

insult to injury, an unusual drought this year produced a deficit of 3

million tons in rice production which had to be imported which also hurt

the farmer. Rice quadrupled in price while Sustagen baby formula moved

from 10,000 rupiahs to 60,000 rupiahs. Imported medicines disappeared or

became very expensive. It was very easy to blame this to the ethnic

Chinese who control the retail trade everywhere as nobody in rural

Indonesia has ever heard of the IMF or of massive private capital


10. The riots against ethnic-Chinese Indonesians spread from one

town to the other and devastated Chinese property and churches in about

forty towns in January/ February of 1998. In Pamanukan, one of the

worst hit towns, on February 14, angry mobs targeted stores and homes

owned by ethnic Chinese Indonesians in sporadic looting, dumping

groceries, cookware and clothing into the streets despite police and

army patrols in the riot-torn town. The looting came a day after

hundreds of shops and houses in about a dozen locations were wrecked in

the worst violence since the onset of Indonesia's biggest economic

crisis in three decades.

11. Mobs were venting their anger against ethnic-Chinese Indonesian

traders they blame for the rising prices that came with mass

unemployment after the plunge in value of the rupiah. A heavy security

presence brought an uneasy calm to most trouble spots, but isolated

disturbances continued. In Patok Besi, a village about 50 miles east of

Jakarta, more than 200 looters ransacked a store owned by an ethnic

Chinese Indonesian. Some ran away with stolen goods. Others dumped wares

- the general stores sell everything from crockery to soap - into the

street as onlookers cheered and laughed. Police directed traffic close

by but did nothing to intervene. ``The Chinese have put up the prices of

everything way too quickly,'' one looter told The Associated Press.

In other towns, crowds picked through

wreckage and took away merchandise from shops abandoned by their

frightened owners.``All these economic problems are the fault of the

Chinese,'' said one man in Pamanukan, about 55 miles east of

Jakarta.``The Chinese keep raising prices,'' said another. ``We want the

government to lower prices.'' One ethnic-Chinese Indonesian storekeeper

wept as she surveyed the damage to her store. This picture was shown on

frontpages of newspapers all over the world.

12. Many ethnic Chinese-Indonesians hid in friends' homes or took

shelter in police stations. Other traders packed up and left, saying

they wouldn't return until the situation calmed. Eng Nori, an

ethnic-Chinese Indonesian woman, said a mob locked her and her two

children in a room for two and a half hours and ransacked her shop and

home in Sukamandi, 45 miles east of Jakarta. They escaped after the

looters left. ``We have to get out of town. But we don't know where to

go,'' she said with tears in her eyes. Riots took place in the

following towns: In Java: Jember, Tamanan. Kalibaru, Balung, Bagorejo,

Pakisaji, Kasiyan, Rembang, Kragan, Pamanukan, Jaiwangi, Kuningan,

Losari, Tanjung, Bulakamba, Sarang, Padangan, Tuba, Tambakboyo,

Margasari, Brebes, Jatirogo, Palang, Cirebon. In other islands: Ende in

Flores, Bima in West Sumbawa, Padangsidempuan in Sumatra, Ujungpandan,

Donggala and Kendari in South Sulawesi, and Praya in Central Lombok.

Riots did not take place in Hindu Bali, nor in Christian areas such as

Manado, Tapanuli, Kalimantan Dayak area, East Indonesia (Timor, West

Irian and Maluku). Ende is on Catholic Flores island but eyewitnesses

said that the 8 February rioting was perpetrated by a thousand Muslim

Florinese who burned down 21 shops and damaging or looting 71 others.

13. It was quite puzzling how these riots started. Many residents of

the rural towns themselves were stunned. Their ethnic-Chinese

Indonesian neighbors lived in their midst for generations, spoke

Indonesian and unlike in Malaysia, many spoke no Chinese at all. All

ate Indonesian food daily and have Indonesian names. It was under

strange circumstances that mobs suddenly appeared from nowhere. This

led to some suspicion: were they instigated and organized to deflect the

blame away from the government and onto the approximately 6 million

ethnic Chinese Indonesians? The instigation of rioters in small towns by

outsiders was evident by mobs showing up from nowhere to inflame locals

who were already upset with sky rocketing prices of essentials. Why did

the government not issue a warning against rioters and offered an

explanation that the economic hardship was not caused by local merchants

but was an externally induced crisis?

14. Diplomats in Jakarta points to signs of rising sentiments

against ethnic-Chinese Indonesians in some quarters in the Indonesian military.

Human Rights Watch, in a report, said that former armed forces commander

General Feisal Tanjung, now coordinating minister for Defense in the new

cabinet, and new army strategic reserve chief Lt. General Prabowo

Sugianto, a son-in-law of the president, and the leader of the military

parliamentary faction Syarwan Hamid, have incited racial tension by

hinting that: "any shop-owner who closes his shop for fear of violence

or refuses to sell at pre-crisis prices is deliberately making goods

scarce to keep prices high." The ethnic-Chinese Indonesians were accused

of jacking up prices and illegally stocking up on goods. The definition

of hoarding was arbitrary and left to the local police to define. This

led to great abuse. General Prabowo organized a buka puasa (break the

fast)event in which thousands of Moslem clergy were invited and anti

ethnic-Chinese rhetoric was the main course. The anti ethnic-Chinese

riots also took on anti Christian overtones. The total number of

churches destroyed by fanatical Muslims during 1995 to 1997 numbered

131. Another 37 were destroyed in the last riots.

15. It is strange that these riots abruptly stopped in mid-February

when General Feisal Tanjung, an Acehnese, was replaced by the more

moderate General Wiranto, a Javanese, as Chief of Staff. Both are

Suharto men but Wiranto was the only general who warned against all

riots, including SARA (religious, communal and ethnic conflicts). In

the new cabinet announced this week, Feisal Tanjung was named

coordinating minister for defense and Wiranto Minister of Defense.

Concomitantly, the massive campaign of food aid in which ethnic-Chinese

Indonesian conglomerates donated essential commodities in aid packages

worth millions of dollars to the most affected people in riot stricken

towns also helped to ease the tension.

16. Since then, the riots against ethnic-Chinese Indonesians gave

way to a wave of on campus student demonstrations, which were clearly

anti-government in nature and is still ongoing. Slogans called for

political reform and a lowering of prices. No slogans against ethnic

Chinese Indonesians were displayed or uttered. So far no ethnic-Chinese

property was destroyed by the students. It started on one campus and now

spreads across the entire archipelago. It was joined by professors

other intellectuals and the general public. Students are demonstrating

to alleviate the suffering of the people. They wear the same yellow

jackets as in 1965, their hallmark of protest. However, the situation

today differs markedly from 1965. Unlike in 1965, when the army was

solidly behind the students, the army today appears to be solidly behind

Suharto. So far the demonstrations have been confined in campuses but

during the last few days they ventured outside and were met by a phalanx

of army and police. Casualties started to fall which could alter the


The riots are a symptom of a deeper problem.

17. The immediate cause of the anti ethnic-Chinese riots was the

precipitous decline in the rupiah rate and the misery it caused through

skyrocketing prices and massive layoffs. However, the fact that the

ethnic-Chinese were easily being made a scapegoat has far deeper roots

in history. It is an interaction of legal, religious, cultural,

political, and economic factors dating back to the Dutch colonial times.

The legal factor.

18. The Dutch classified the ethnic Chinese as a separate group from

the indigenous Indonesians, requiring separate registration of birth,

marriage and deaths, schools, and even separate living quarters from the

native Indonesians. After independence, there is a problem of dual

nationality as China continued to recognize the ethnic Chinese as

Indonesians. In April 1955, a Sino-Indonesian dual nationality act was

signed to solve the problem. In the implementation of this act, during

a two year period, January 1960 to January 1962, those who were

considered to have dual nationality had to chose between citizenship of

China or Indonesia. According to estimates, 65 to 70 % opted for

Indonesian citizenship. After the abortive coup of 1965, in which China

was suspected of having played a role, the Chinese were virtually forced

to adopt Indonesian names and Chinese culture was discouraged or even

banned. However, problems relating to citizenship continued to surface

which caused the Suharto government to unilaterally abrogate the treaty

in 1969. It should be remembered that diplomatic relations between

China and Indonesia were frozen as a result of the 1965 abortive coup

d'etat. On 8 August, 1990, to mark the restoration of relations between

the two countries, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to settle the

citizenship of 300,000 ethnic Chinese still holding Chinese citizenship.

Thus the issue of dual citizenship was finally resolved, at least on


The cultural factor.

19. Culturally, ethnic-Chinese in Indonesia can be distinguished

between totoks and peranakan. The totoks are those who are not of mixed

descend, whose families have been in Indonesia for two or three

generations, have had Chinese language The education and cultural

orientation, and speak Mandarin or one of the dialects. By occupation

most of these totoks are in business and trade. Culturally, they

resemble the Chinese population in Malaysia. A lot of those who opted

for Chinese citizenship belong to this group. The peranakan, which

constitutes the majority of ethnic-Chinese, are those who are of mixed

descent, and whose families have settled in Indonesia for at least three

generations. They are educated in Indonesian or formerly Dutch schools

and generally speak no Chinese. Their cultural orientation is more akin

to where they have settled: they speak Javanese in Central and East

Java, Manadonese in Manado, etc. By education many of them have a

university education and they are in the independent professions by

occupation, although a significant number are also in business and

trade. The shopkeepers affected by the riots are mostly in this

peranakan category. Because of the ban on Chinese culture after the

abortive cup in 1965, the distinction between the two groups have became


20. The adoption of Indonesian names by ethnic Chinese, the rapid

revolution in media and TV and sports made possible by technology and

economic development, and the advancement of education were all positive

factors in race relations. An increasing number of the younger

generation middle class intermarry between ethnic-Chinese and pribumi

although difference in religion is often still a factor. Therefore

intermarriages are more common between Christians such as among the

Dayak population of Kalimantan and ethnic Chinese. Most new generation

ethnic-Chinese enjoy Indonesian pop songs and culture and speak without

any discernible accent, unlike their grandparents.

The Religious factor.

21. Unlike in Thailand or the Philippines, where the ethnic Chinese

share the same religion with the majority (Buddhism in Thailand and

Catholicism in the Philippines) the religious factor in Indonesia is

critical. The ethnic-Chinese are mostly Buddhist, Taoist or Christian as

distinct from the majority Moslem population. After the abortive 1965

coup, everyone was forced to adopt a religion and many Chinese flocked

to Catholicism or Protestantism. The relations between ethnic-Chinese

and pribumi (indigenous) Indonesians are never strained in Christian

areas such as Manado, Tapanuli, internal Kalimantan where the pribumi

are Dayak, West Irian, Maluku and Flores as well as in Bali where the

pribumi profess Hinduism.It is significant that no riots took place in

Christian areas nor in Bali. In the rest of Indonesia, especially on

Java, the majority of Moslems are tolerant and not fanatic in attitude

but a small minority is interested in establishing an Islamic state in

which Chinese domination over the economy will be wiped out. This was

evidenced by the rhetoric voiced from mosque pulpits and other fora by

powerful generals and Moslem lay leaders to instigate the masses against

"rats who are hoarding food and raising prices at will" The implication

was that shopkeepers were portrayed as subversive criminals and rioting

against criminals is not a crime.

The economic factor.

22. During the Dutch colonial period, the Chinese are already

recognized as middlemen and traders. They are generally more wealthy

than the peasants or workers or even civil servants. After independence,

this state of affairs continued and periodically, laws were adopted to

curb the economic power of the Chinese. Suharto, in order to promote

rapid economic growth adopted economic liberalization in which the

ethnic Chinese were unfettered. Per capita incomes grew steadily

thought three decades up to the financial crisis and there was a trickle

down effect. Indonesia produced a 20 million middle class population.

As the ethnic Chinese only constitute 3-4% of the population, even if

they all belonged to the middle class, (which is not true as there are

many poor ethnic Chinese indonesians as well), a significant number of

pribumi (indigenous) Indonesians have entered the middle class. This

was an important factor in harmonizing relations between ethnic-Chinese

and pribumi. In spite of the rapid progress made, the gap between rich

and poor remained and even widened with many of the rich and super rich

being of Chinese descent.

23. In the words of a young Muslim editor Fadli Zon: "The Muslim

majority is ready to face any challenge, as long as there is economic

justice. It is time for the 87% Muslim majority to seize the reins of

an economy from a community that accounts for a mere 3% of the country's

200 million people. Time to construct a New Economic Policy that could

go further than the Malaysian model in promoting the indigenous race.

Time, too, for the military to help assert the rights of the nation's


24. The sudden and severe economic crisis starting in July last year

bewildered everybody. In particular the poor and the blue and white

collar workers who were laid off. The silence of the government was

deafening. It neither condemned the riots nor did it offer an

explanation that the steep price hikes and unemployment was not the work

of small local shop owners but was a consequence of the sudden and steep

decline in the exchange rate as a result of an externally induced


Political factors.

25. Political factors worked both against and for the ethnic-Chinese.

The disproportionate importance given by Suharto to the CSIS dominated

by Chinese Catholics and supported by powerful non-Chinese army generals

was a thorn in the eye of the Moslems. Thus anti-government sentiment

was often mixed with anti-Chinese and anti-Christian rhetoric. In order

to please these groups, the secular Suharto gave in to powerful Moslem

demands by giving them more control and power. The rise of Habibi, an

intellectual educated in Christian schools in Germany, who established

the ICMI, was an example. There was also evidence of deflection of the

peoples' anger away from Suharto and to the ethnic-Chinese. However, as

the ongoing student demonstrations show, their anger is distinctly

directed against the government.

26. A solution requires a conscious effort by all concerned.

Unfortunately, such efforts will now fall by the wayside because of the

preoccupation of government and businessman alike with the financial

crisis. Since the current riots were induced by the financial crisis,

a solution of this crisis being worked out between the IMF and the new

Indonesian government will be very important for the survival of the

Indonesian economy. On the other hand, the continued sufferings and

layoffs of workers will cause further social unrest and further riots

with unpredictable outcome for the fate of the ethnic-Chinese