Indonesia's Chinese Try To Avoid Being Targets
The elders of the Buddhist Eng An Kiong temple in Malang, a university city on the Indonesian island of Java, have good reason to take an interest in a Western concept such as public relations. The temple collected money from its mostly Chinese congregation to buy 50 tons of rice and distribute it at the end last month among the city's poor - mostly ethnic Javanese who were celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.
The donation came at a good time, as many of Indonesia's 200 million people are struggling with rising food prices, shortages, and more than 1.5 million job losses in recent months.
"Maybe it improves our image with the Javanese," says Winarko Tandio, one of the temple elders. "They know we are wealthier than they."
Indonesia faces the most severe economic crisis since 1965, and Mr. Winarko remembers what the last crisis brought to the country: famine, chaos, and then a failed coup that was blamed on the Communist party and its ethnic Chinese members in particular.
"Thousands of Chinese were murdered," he says. "Muslim youth groups chased us through the streets. Many Chinese closed their shops for months and left the country, back to China."
Many Chinese fear they will be scapegoated again for the current economic downturn. Sudden jumps in the cost of rice, cooking oil, and kerosene have already sparked a series of attacks on Chinese shops, homes, and churches in recent weeks. The region around Malang, home to some of Indonesia's more devout Muslims, has been particularly restless.
"The prices are going up, the salaries don't," says one Chinese shop owner in Pasuruan, a town near Malang where youngsters threw rocks at several Chinese stores last week because the price of kerosene had tripled.