Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Angry lawmakers are demanding a public apology and explanation from Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew after he reportedly said the minority Chinese-Indonesian community was being systematically marginalized.
"The statement is full of lies. We are very upset because it has disgraced Indonesia. We will ask the government to send a letter of protest to Lee," Djoko Susilo, a member of the House of Representatives' Commission I overseeing security and international affairs, told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Djoko, who represents the National Mandate Party (PAN), said there was no longer discrimination or systematic marginalization of the ethnic Chinese here.
"Now, the minority Chinese has access to all positions, even in the military. We even have ministers and lawmakers from the ethnic group."
According to reports, Lee told a forum in Singapore it was vital for the Chinese majority state to stand up to its majority Muslim neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia.
He said the attitude of Malaysia and Indonesia toward Singapore had been shaped by the way the countries treated their own ethnic Chinese minorities.
"Our neighbors both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful. They are hard working and, therefore, they are systematically marginalized," Lee was quoted as saying.
Malaysian leaders also have reportedly demanded an apology from Lee.
Another lawmaker from Commission I, Amris Hassan of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), criticized Lee's remarks for the danger they posed to Indonesian unity as well as ASEAN's good relations.
"It is very dangerous for our unity because the false feeling of some people here will be justified, and they will think that marginalization really exists. Beside obstructing our bilateral relations, the remarks also hinder the process of establishing the ASEAN community."
Amris said Lee should issue a public apology, rectify his statement and explain what he meant not only to Indonesian leaders but also to the Indonesian people.
Indonesians of Chinese descent account for approximately 3 percent, or around six million, of the country's 220 million population.
Then president B.J. Habibie issued a decree ordering government officials to treat all Indonesians the same after he took power in 1998. In 1999, he renewed the call by issuing a decree banning discrimination against Indonesians based on their origins.
It was during the presidency of his successor, Abdurrahman Wahid, that Chinese-Indonesians were allowed to practice their faith and have cultural performances in public.
However, almost a decade after the antidiscrimination regulations, reports continue of persistent discriminative administrative policies in obtaining birth certificates, ID cards, family card and a citizenship certificate (SBKRI).
"We should analyze Lee's statement carefully because I think this time his remarks were not a slip of the tongue," Hariyadi Wirawan, an international relations expert at the University of Indonesia, told the Post.
"He's aiming at something. Probably, Indonesia is pressing Singapore on returning 'blacklisted' businesspeople, who happen to be ethnic Chinese who fled to the country, in recent extradition talks."