Trumped up xenophobia over influx of Chinese workers in Indonesia: The Jakarta Post

Workers loading bags of cement onto a boat at Sunda Kelapa port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Nov 21, 2016.
Workers loading bags of cement onto a boat at Sunda Kelapa port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Nov 21, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Dec 29, the paper says fears over the growing Chinese presence in the country are irrational

The world is in the throes of resurgent nationalism, steeped in nostalgia of some glorious past and drawing boundaries based on race and ethnicity.

In the United States, a certain political leader talks about making "America great again", probably wanting to revisit a moment in history when majority ethnic groups also controlled much of the country's wealth.

In the United Kingdom, the longing for an old Britain, where prosperity was shared by the nation's own population without the presence of immigrants from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, has given rise to Brexit.

The trend of ethnic nationalism has finally arrived in Indonesia and nothing riles people up in this country more than the threat of Chinese intrusion.

For several months now, rumours and unconfirmed reports have been swirling that China has sent millions of workers to Indonesia. Some speculated that there could be up to 20 million Chinese nationals in the country.

The rumours were particularly toxic and appealed to people's sense of nationalism, if not threatening their sense of well-being. As if it is not bad enough, having millions of Chinese nationals present in the country takes away much-needed jobs that local people count on for their livelihood.

As in the case of rumours and speculation, a dose of common sense could easily counter this.

Average workers in China are paid twice or thrice their peers in Indonesia, so why travel to Indonesia and take lesser paying jobs?

If there are between 10 and 20 million Chinese nationals working in this country, we would see them everywhere.

In the US in 2015, there were 26.3 million foreign-born people in the labour force, these are people who we see working behind the counters at the country's many airports or behind fast-food counters all throughout the country.

We do not see many Chinese workers manning checkout counters at our local supermarkets.

The truth is that there has indeed been an increase in the number of Chinese nationals working in the country as the economic ties between Indonesia and China improved after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo assumed office in 2014.

President Jokowi himself has visited China five times during his three years in office.

Following the intensive courting, China's realisation of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indonesia grew 290 per cent to US$1.5 billion (S$2.17 billion) from January to September compared to the same period last year.

Despite the astronomical rise in the realisation of FDI, there are only approximately 21,000 workers from China who are currently in the country and only about 125 of them were thought to be problematic, some of whom were thought to have violated their visa and stay permits as officials discovered in North Sumatra recently.

However, people violate their visa all the time and the only action that relevant authorities should take is the strict enforcement of immigration rules. Failure to enforce immigration rules for foreign workers, Chinese or otherwise, will only embolden people and groups who feed xenophobic fears.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 media entitites.