Date
13 December 2017
The sun rises on Mount Agung in Bali. Newly declassified documents reveal Washington’s behind-the-scenes role in the bloody purge in Indonesia in the 1960s. Photo: Reuters
The sun rises on Mount Agung in Bali. Newly declassified documents reveal Washington’s behind-the-scenes role in the bloody purge in Indonesia in the 1960s. Photo: Reuters

Anti-Chinese sentiment lurking in Indonesia?

During the notorious “anti-communist purge” in Indonesia in the 1960s, about 500,000 are said to have died. It’s estimated that as many as three million civilians were killed.

The overwhelming majority of the victims were ethnic Chinese, who were killed on the orders of general Suharto who had toppled the pro-communist Sukarno regime in 1965 and taken control of the country.

Recently, a 30,000-page document released by the National Declassification Center of the United States has shed new light on what was referred to by the Central Intelligence Agency as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”, and revealed Washington’s behind-the-scenes role in the atrocity.

According to the document, the US government was not only perfectly aware of the scale and brutality of the anti-communist massacre but was actually providing money, equipment and even extermination lists for Suharto in order to help him root out communist influence in the country.

Suffice it to say that the American government was complicit in the massacre.

Let us look at the anti-communist purge in its historical context.

During the 1960s, the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was under way. Sukarno was in favor of socialism, thus his stance on diplomacy was inclined to the Soviet Union and China. The US government and Suharto were both fiercely anti-communist.

That explains why Washington looked the other way when the massacre took place.

About 50 years on, with the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, political conservatives in Indonesia still are not willing to face up to the purge.

Worse still, the recent uproar against former Jakarta mayor “Ahok” Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over his alleged blasphemy against the Quran could have been an indication that anti-Chinese sentiment is still very much lurking in Indonesia.

Moreover, the ongoing territorial dispute between Beijing and Jakarta over the so-called nine-dash line in the South China Sea could once again draw the US and Indonesia closer, if a clash breaks out in the region.

Fortunately, China has come a long way over the decades, and is now Indonesia’s biggest trading partner and a major foreign investor.

However, while China is aggressively eyeing business opportunities in Indonesia, Beijing must also remain vigilant against the possible return of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 20

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal

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