Indonesia’s Chinese urge end to discriminatory laws

JAKARTA, Indonesia, AP

A group representing the Chinese community in Indonesia Tuesday met with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid to ask for help in removing discriminatory legislation against the ethnic group.

The delegation asked that an official watchdog body which monitors the Chinese community to be abolished and for a decree banning the importation of products with Chinese characters to be revoked, said the group’s spokesman Tan Swie Ling.

“We believe that this body and many other decrees legitimize discrimination towards the Chinese minority in Indonesia,” he said.

Ethnic Chinese make up about 3.5 percent of Indonesia’s 203 million people. Many have retained links to their ancestral homeland.

Their success in business and commerce has generated resentment among many indigenous Indonesians, and they are often targeted in riots.

Former dictator Suharto banned the use of the Chinese language and forced Chinese families to adopt indigenous names in a campaign of assimilation.

According to Tan Swie Ling, Wahid welcomed the group’s demands and promised to take action. Since coming to office in October 1999, the president has already relaxed strict immigration procedures on Chinese visitors and lifted many cultural and religious restrictions. In a separate demand the group also urged the acknowledgment of the Chinese New Year as a national holiday.