Indonesian Separatism Seen as an Irritant, Not a Threat: Transmigration Policy Irks Natives

By Gross, Richard C. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

Indonesian Separatism Seen as an Irritant, Not a Threat: Transmigration Policy Irks Natives


Gross, Richard C., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


James Clad, research professor of Southeast Asian studies at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, spoke with Deputy Foreign Editor Richard C. Gross about Indonesia. The following is from that telephone interview:

Question: Indonesia has problems with Timor, hostage-taking in Irian Jaya and an Islamic fundamentalist movement in Aceh. All of them appear to be related to the transmigration program. What is that program, and what is it intended to accomplish? Answer: Each [separatist movement] has its own history. Aceh is very much influenced by an orthodox approach to Islam. East Timor is a predominantly Roman Catholic area that lived under Portuguese colonial rule for over 400 years. Irian Jaya is the western half of the island of New Guinea. . . .

The transmigration program takes people from the overpopulated inner islands, as they're called, from Java, Bali and Lombok, and puts them in resettlement areas in the outer islands like Sumatra, Aceh, Borneo and the eastern islands, including Timor, East Timor and Irian Jaya.

The transmigration program is an irritant to people who live in those three areas, but the cause of the separatism has far deeper roots than that.

Q: How big are these problems in terms of Indonesia's stability?

A: Separatism is nothing new in Indonesia. The national unity of Indonesia is far more complete now after 50 years of fought-for independence against the Dutch than it was in the 1950s.

The separatist [movements] represent continuing irritants, but no threat to the stability of the country. They are, however, certainly embarrassments, and it's in that context that the Indonesians react to people staging sit-ins in embassies or making life difficult for oil workers in the Aceh area in Sumatra or the hostage-taking events in Irian Jaya.

Q: Is Indonesia afraid of China, and if so, why?

A: Indonesians, especially the Javanese and the elite that run the country, have a visceral feeling of nervousness about China, and some of that translates into nervousness about minority ethnic Chinese in Indonesia who have a very disproportionate role in the economic life of the country.

The Indonesians also see themselves as a big country and, if not quite the counterweight to China's 1.2 billion people, then Indonesia's 190 million have strong cultural traditions of their own. The Indonesians see themselves as a major player in Asia along with Japan and India and China.

Q: What's the state of U.S.-Indonesian relations?

A: Relations are mostly characterized by friendliness. Certainly that increased after 1965 when the government became more perceived as pro-Western. The environment for foreign investment changed toward a receptive environment. American oil companies are very prominent in Indonesia. American manufacturers, ranging from Nike shoes to Motorola.

Q: Since the United States pulled out of the Philippines, has there been an interest in relocating American forces to Indonesia?

A: Even before the Philippine Senate's decision in 1991 to reject an extension of the bases agreement with the U. …

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