The ethnic Chinese in Indonesia has faced many decades of racism and sometimes pogroms from Indonesians envious and suspicious of the Chinese. What is lesser known is that the US and especially the CIA played a cunning, covert role in spreading the defamatory lies and colluded with the racist Islamic government of Indonesia inciting the racial violence and ethnic cleansing against them.
The ethnic Chinese population is roughly 2-4% of Indonesia’s total population but there are persistent rumors that they own >70% of the wealth. This perceived economic success (which may not even be accurate due to the systematic discrimination the Chinese have endured for centuries in the country stretching all the way to Dutch colonial rule to prevent them from attaining certain degrees of success) has caused distrust and envy among many Indonesians mirroring the antisemitism during the early part of the twentieth century in Europe.
Anti-Chinese race riots and government sanctioned targeted paramilitary massacres in Indonesia have occurred since the 60s. But one of the principle causes for these organized massacres (much of which seemed to have been backed by the Indonesian government) is CIA black propaganda. Black propaganda is defined as false information purporting to come from one side of a conflict when its actually from another source. Take the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This was purportedly from a council of powerful Jewish elders who plotted to take over the world when in fact it was written by anti-Semites trying to defame Jews.
The CIA during the 50s, 60s and 70s were notorious for their use of black propaganda around the world in their efforts to destabilize regimes and political parties they did not like often pitting one ethnic, religious or political group against another. One tactic was to use leaflets made to look like propaganda from one group which advocated atrocities and domination of another group when this was actually CIA forgeries used to create enmity between the groups. We know from the CIA’s own records released through the Freedom of Information Act that the CIA did this throughout the world creating ethnic, political conflict, strife and even wars.
The CIA’s central role in Indonesia during the 60s was to spread anti-communist propaganda. Moreover they tried to cast a shadow over the ethnic Chinese population in Indonesia in portraying them as all agents of Beijing with the intent of “colonizing” Indonesia or to turn it into a godless, anti-Islamic, communist satellite. CIA propaganda hinting that China was trying to colonize Indonesia and had conspired to overtake the society from within was spread with the help of the Indonesian government. The aim was to spread rumors about armed coups, government subversion, social and economic domination, subversive political control and foreign imperialism by ethnic Chinese people and the PRC. None of these rumors have ever been substantiated. But during large scale anti-communist massacres in the 60s, the ethnic Chinese population were one of the primary targets of Suharto’s brutal regime. These were not just anti-Communist massacres but anti-Chinese. The Suharto Indonesian dictatorship made what they termed the “Chinese problem” one of their main concerns and they considered their association with the CIA to be part of the “final solution” to that problem. Anti-Chinese genocide and ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Chinese people were the result in one of the most forgotten and least mourned genocides of the 20th century. As I have already noted elsewhere, it’s important to keep in mind that much of the propaganda directed against China is also directed at the Chinese people. Much of it is inherently racist.
Suharto also made speaking Chinese, Hanzi characters, and even Chinese names illegal. These no doubt are great examples of genuine incidents of cultural genocide.
More than 30 years later, the Suharto regime was still in power but before the end of its long rein of terror in 1998, his regime coordinated one last death spasm resulting in an anti-Chinese pogrom leaving at least 1500 dead ethnic Chinese and hundreds of rapes against Chinese women and girls. The Indonesian government has since launched an investigation into these crimes but there has been no prosecutions and many of the Indonesian politicians and military provocateurs who spurred on anti-Chinese racism by directing rioters to target Chinese people and their business (many signs read “Ganyang Cina!” or “Crush the Chinese!”) during that time and thus inciting the violence have rerun for office. That shouldn’t be surprising as the Indonesian government again, seems to have been culpable in spurring on anti-Chinese racism and coordinating attacks. These incidents provide another example of when international intervention is not only permissible but probably obligatory. Mainland China’s seeming indifference and inaction during those times angered many ethnic Chinese all over the world. Protests at the Indonesia embassy took place in Beijing. Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and many other places rallied and demanded the world take action and the government of Taiwan threatened sanctions. But mainland China remained as closed off as ever. The west also seemed muted and indifferent. When these incidents were reported, often the racial, genocidal, ethnic cleansing element was left out. Sometimes the victims were blamed for causing economic inequality in the country and the issue was framed into one of the poor masses turning against an elite ethnic group (despite the fact that most of the Chinese Indonesians victims were living in abject poverty along with other Indonesians).
As China gains its strength, realizes its place in the world it will hopefully do more than it has, perhaps even conduct military operations against countries that persecute their Chinese minority. Changes in its view of its place in the world seems to be taking place since 1998 spurred on by events such as those in Indonesia. If the west is truly interested in protecting human rights and stopping genocide and ethnic cleansing it would assist China’s efforts to stop them but history has shown that it has always played the role of perpetrator, aider and abetter of these crimes.