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The happy Chinese (2 February 2006)

300,000 Chinese residents denied citizenship in Indonesia (26 January 2006)


The happy Chinese (2 February 2006)

At last, Indonesia is coming to terms with its Chinese community

IF A stroll through Jakarta's ritzier shopping malls is anything to go by, Indonesians' attitudes towards their ethnic-Chinese compatriots are changing fast. During the 30-year tenure of Suharto, a former strongman, the government outlawed displays of Chinese culture, and encouraged Chinese Indonesians to assimilate. But in 2000, Abdurrahman Wahid, a reformist president, scrapped much of the discriminatory legislation. Three years later, his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, declared Chinese new year a national holiday. This year, shops and restaurants are festooned with banners and decorations hailing the Year of the Dog. The traditional lion dance proved so popular that several venues struggled to find troupes to perform as advertised. There is something of a fad, it seems, for things Chinese.

One television channel now broadcasts a daily news bulletin in Chinese. Several Chinese newspapers and radio stations have sprung up in Jakarta and other big cities. Demand for Mandarin lessons is on the increase, from both ethnic Chinese and other Indonesians. A Chinese Indonesian recently came second in the Indonesian version of �Pop Idol�, a television singing contest in which the audience chooses the winner.

No one knows how many ethnic Chinese there are in Indonesia. Leo Suryadinata, an academic, estimates their number at almost 3m, or 1.5% of the total population, by extrapolation from incomplete data in the census of 2000. But many Chinese Indonesians may not have identified themselves as such, for fear of discrimination. Other estimates range as high as 10m.

The economic clout of Chinese Indonesians is also a matter of dispute. A much-quoted but spurious statistic contends that they control 70% of the economy. Chinese Indonesians do own many of the biggest and most prominent conglomerates, several of which profited greatly from Mr Suharto's largesse before and during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. But in some provinces, such as West Kalimantan, there are many poor Chinese farmers.

Chinese Indonesians complain that officials assume that they are all rich, and so demand higher bribes from them than from other Indonesians. Grasping officials still often require Chinese Indonesians to present supplementary proofs of citizenship to obtain passports or school places, even though the regulation in question was abolished in 1996. Chinese Indonesian badminton players, despite having won several Olympic medals and many other trophies for their country, often struggle to get their paperwork processed. In an infamous incident in 2002, Miss Megawati had to intervene to help a Chinese Indonesian athlete obtain a passport. But two years later, the Olympic badminton team was still complaining about bureaucratic harassment.

Still, some Chinese Indonesians also concede that their failure to integrate better helps to sustain such prejudice. More seem to be venturing into politics: there were 172 Chinese candidates at the last parliamentary election, although only a handful won seats. But others, scarred by Indonesia's periodic anti-Chinese pogroms, prefer to keep a low profile. It will take more than a few festive seasons, presumably, to wash away those memories. The Economist

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300,000 Chinese residents denied citizenship in Indonesia (26 January 2006)

An estimated 300,000 ethnic Chinese across Indonesia have been prevented from obtaining citizenship documents despite having lived in the country for decades, said the Anti-Discriminatory Institute of Indonesia (LADI) yesterday.  

Many poor descendants of Chinese migrants have been denied birth or marriage certificates, or identity cards, which prevents them from obtaining citizenship because of discriminatory laws and corruption, the rights group said.

While many of the discriminatory laws have been revoked in recent years, government officials continue to demand that ethnic Chinese produce extra documents to prove they should be granted Indonesian citizenship, LADI spokeswoman Rebeka Harsono told AFP, after a press briefing on the issue.

In Jakarta alone, several hundred Chinese Indonesians were illiterate because they were unable to attend school and were blocked from setting up businesses - or earning a decent income - because they lack citizenship documents, she said.

"These are lost generations," said Ms Harsono.

At least a dozen ethnic Chinese women yesterday met with former president Abrurrahman Wahid, calling on him to pressure the current government to end the discrimination.

Public displays of Chinese culture and religion were banned under former dictator Suharto, who stepped down in 1998 after Chinese were blamed for supporting a failed coup in 1965.  Me Wahid overturned the ban in 2000.

Ethnic Chinese comprise about 3 percent of the country's 220 million people. AFP

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