MARGINALIZATION OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AMIDST THE GROWING PANGS OF DEVELOPMENT IN SOUTHEAST ASIAN COUNTRIES

Mochtar Naim
Member of the Indonesian Senate
(Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, DPD-RI)

Delivered at the 17th APPF
(Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum),
Vientiane, Laos, Jan 11-15, 2009

WHEN Suharto took power in the sixties, he sum-moned his economic advisors who were then popularly nicknamed as “the Berkeley Mafia” — as most of them were graduates of the Berkeley University of California faculty of economics–, to look for the solution how to overcome the economic dilapidation and virtual bank-cruptcy left over by Sukarno. They almost unanimously said, “give it to the experienced,” meaning the migrant overseas Chinese, “as the indigenous were practically all ignorant and still lived in the yester life of the traditional-agricultural-pre-industrial world. It may take a hundred years for the indigenous to change their lots, they argued, while cooperating with, and making use of, the Chinese, the change would take place practically in no time.”
By using the expertise and cunningness of the Chinese in trade and business, and in industries, the situation was then rapidly changed, and the GNP and GDP indices began to rise. Thus started the romantic and mutually profitable cooperation between the authority in the hands of the military and the corporate circles in the hands of the Chinese. The failure of Sukarno by not making use of the Chinese was the success of Suharto by making use of the Chinese. Similar cooperation between the native rulers and the Chinese in the pre-colonial periods indeed had also taken place as the native feudalistic rulers looked in disregard to trade and business as they thought such activities were making them aloofed from fine esoteric lives. The present SBY-JK regime, to compare with, give dole out financial aids to the poor, but make no structural change along the ethnic lines as in Malaysia, economic-wise.
Through such collaboration most Southeast Asian na-tions developed their economies and social welfares. Now they reaped the whirlwind. While the GDP and GNP constantly rose, the gaps between the two, the Chinese and the men in power on the one hand and the natives on the other became ever widening. The overwhelming majority of the natives who are the rightful owner of the land remain ever poor and the Chinese minority in collaboration with the indigenous authority became ever rich. As the situation in Indonesia shows, the proportion of the Indonesian natives and the migrant Chinese in the demographic and economic terms became lopsided. The Chinese who make less than 5 % of the total population control 95 % of the Indonesian economy, while the native Indonesians the reverse.
Similar pictures can then be widened to most Southeast Asian countries with a few exceptions. Singapore miraculously has been turned to practically all Chinese with native minority Malays who inherited the island from their ancestors became second class citizens. So also the natives of the Philipines, including the Tagalogs, the Bisayans, the Malays and the Moros, have had similar fates. They were marginalized in all walks of life and cornered in remote hinterlands and lower lands with rural and subsistent economy. The Chinese in turn took over most political, economic, educational and socio-cultural strings of the country, and they were all in the upper hands in all walks of life.
The Thais, the Vietnamese, the Lao and Cambodians and other countries in the mainland are now struggling hard to solve similar ethnic problems, notably with the migrant Chinese who also were in the upper hands of the domestic and national economy.
The Malays in Malaysia, however, were notably in the exceptions. They found the solution, and the picture has been brightening ever since Mahathir changed the course since the early seventies. Now the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians can work hand in hand, as well as separately, with a simple policy that no ethnic groups could ever be excluded in economic and social welfare terms, as the source of the problem is the malicious policy of disregarding the indigenous and giving privileges to the ethnic Chinese to run the economy of the country. And all for the sake of rapid growth and development, nation-wise, but by disregarding humanitarian considerations.
The Malaysian example could be a prototype and copied by other Southeast Asian countries in steering and normalizing the course of development that benefiting all citizens in more humanitarian and just bases without regard, for the sake of future generations and democracy. ***

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