Indonesia's Chinese citizens are at a crossroads. Since May, they have endured unthinkable atrocities, from the looting of their shops and burning of their homes to horrendous gang rapes of teenage girls. After living in Indonesia for generations and providing the backbone of its modern economy, many ethnic Chinese are now wondering whether there is a place for them in a country they once considered home.
It's incumbent upon the Indonesian government and President B.J. Habibie to do the right thing and guarantee the security and dignity of hardworking ethnic Chinese Indonesians. That means bringing to justice the masterminds of the attacks against them. It also means abolishing laws that discriminate against Chinese--and enforcing these new measures with the police and military.
Right now, the government isn't doing enough. And the costs of its half-measures could prove severe. Certainly, an economic recovery would be all the speedier if the ethnic Chinese community had incentives to pump money held outside the country back into Indonesia. But right now, top Indonesian Chinese business executives are sitting tight, looking for signals from the government to rebuild their confidence. At the same time, young Indonesian Chinese professionals are seeking jobs outside the country, creating a brain drain.
Furthermore, ethnic Chinese investors around the region are appalled at the brutality targeted at Indonesia's Chinese, and are unlikely to find Indonesia an attractive spot for new investments unless justice is served. True, there are haves and have-nots in Indonesia, and many of the Chinese are the haves. But by terrorizing the Chinese and forcing them to flee, Indonesia doesn't spread the wealth. It only plunges itself deeper into economic--and moral--poverty.