Wednesday, September 28, 2016

60 percent of Indonesians view making cash payments to win new business as an acceptable practice

Based on a global survey by Ernst & Young in 2012, 60 percent of Indonesian respondents viewed making cash payments to win new business as an acceptable practice. Additionally, 40 percent of Indonesian respondents believed that providing entertainment to win or retain business was also acceptable conduct.

A more recent global survey by Ernst & Young, its 14th Global Fraud Survey ( 2016 ), found that 76 percent of Indonesian respondents believed that actions such as applying more flexible product return policies, changing assumptions determining valuations/reserves, extending monthly reporting periods, backdating contracts and the early booking of revenues were justifiable.

Bribery is a violation of the anticorruption law. However, many scholars believe that the fact that the act of graft remains pervasive, despite the numerous cases uncovered by law enforcers, is because there is more to bribery than meets the eye.

Some suggest that in addition to economic factors, cultural factors also support the high prevalence of bribery in society.

Multiple perspectives used by anticorruption scholars in viewing and discussing the bribery problem include the “structural perspective” (viewing human behavior as structured in nature, usually focusing on strengthening rules and regulations), “socio-normative perspective” (focusing on society’s accepted norms) and “organizational-normative” perspective (focusing on the link between organizational norms and corruption).

Discussing bribery from an ethical point of view often leads to revealing what many experts dub as the relativism of corruption, where the right and wrong of a graft act depends on the context that people use to judge it.

For example, whereas some people who support absolutism in ethics believe that all actions must be consistent with moral principles, others who favor the exceptionism view of ethics believe that exceptions can be made in some cases, including those of bribery (e.g. surviving financial pressure). With regard to such exceptions, some also believe that when corrupt acts can produce benefit for most, if not all, people then they can be justified (situationism view).

Generally, when debating whether or not paying or accepting bribery is ethically wrong, an individual will often judge it based on his or her ethical position.

Studies suggest that one’s ethical view is largely affected by the shared norm, values and beliefs (i.e. culture) of the society or the group he or she belongs to.

Those who are strongly against all forms of corruption are often those who take the view of absolutism, by which they always believe corrupt acts are ethically wrong. On the other hand, those who explicitly or implicitly support the views of exceptionism and situationism in their statements and actions bear the risk of someday becoming part of the corruption problem themselves.

In Asian nations such as China and Indonesia, bribery is often associated with cultural gift-giving rituals. While some scholars believe this is not entirely true, evidence suggests that some bribers and bribe receivers “misuse” such rituals to justify their fraudulent acts.

Experts in psychology, anthropology, sociology and economy, to name a few, have been studying gift giving and found that in some cultures it represents a complex and important element in human interaction.

Many view gift giving as a way individuals establish their belonging to a particular group, society or network.

Across Asia, the culture of giving a gift in itself is not a problem. In fact, many believe the spirit of giving can promote harmony in society and strengthen human relationships and productivity. However, in the case of rampaging corruption in Indonesia, gift-giving activities have been misused to support the so-called rent-seeking behavior, especially in the public sector, where, for example, businessmen obtain unlawful privileges from public officials to make things happen or to make them happen faster.

With regard to what happened to the former DPD head, especially regarding the council’s past reputation, many hope that it is only a case of a bad apple, where the alleged corrupt act is an act by a single individual and not by a group of people (bad bushel), or even by an entire organization (bad crop).

A case of a bad apple may happen because one individual somehow submits to the views of exceptionism or situationism regarding corrupt acts, which eventually leads him or her into engaging in a corrupt act. Removing the individual from the organization may stop the problem from spreading and becoming institutionalized.

Bad bushel and bad crop problems, on the other hand, are much more difficult to resolve as they require more than just removing certain individuals from their organizations but also removing tacit and explicit knowledge associated with the corrupt acts from organizational memory. Right now, we can only hope that whatever the authorities do it will restore the people’s faith in the DPD.

The writer
Hendi Yogi Prabowo  is the director of the Center for Forensic Accounting Studies at the Islamic University of Indonesia Yogyakarta. He obtained his Masters and PhD in forensic accounting from the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Why American tourists don't come to Indonesia

                              Water Palace of Tirta Gangga in East Bali, Karangasem

Over 75 million US citizens travel abroad each year. Only about 7 percent of them visit Asia, but that is still roughly 5 million people. But only a tiny percent of that number comes to Indonesia. Most of those who do come focus almost entirely on Bali, which has, of course, been the face of Indonesia for the international jet set for decades.

Most people I know back in Canada, where I’m from, and the US where I lived for 20 years, thought that “Bali” was a country – a picture-perfect tropical isle floating somewhere in the Pacific. The fact that Bali is part of a nation called Indonesia, which has the fourth-largest population on the planet (right behind the US, in fact) would come as quite a shock to most North Americans.

There are some logical reasons for this lack of American interest in Indonesia as a vacation destination.  There are easy links between the US and many other Asian countries. Americans fought wars in Vietnam and Cambodia and welcomed large groups of refugees after those wars – families who now go back to their homelands regularly.  Our large military presence in the Philippines and Thailand established many natural links there and a significant amount of inter-marriage. Chinese immigrants helped to build the North American railroads and have always had a prominent place in our cultural heritage. And not only is there a large and very successful diaspora of Japanese immigrants in America, there is also a sophisticated taste for all things Japanese including architectural and garden design, Zen Buddhism, sushi (and Japanese food in general), martial arts, cult movies and literature.

Indonesia on the other hand has remained unknown. There are very, very few Indonesian immigrants in America. Apart from the movies The Year of Living Dangerously and the Bali-focused Eat, Pray, Love, (plus, of course, the tsunami of 2004), Indonesia simply doesn’t come up on the American radar.

There are also some serious negatives that have filtered through the global press, including what The Jakarta Post contributor Duncan Graham calls one of the country’s “self-inflicted wounds”:  “a cruel and illogical approach to the drug problem by maintaining the death penalty”. Graham is right. It’s not that American tourists would be stashing drugs in their backpacks or Gucci bags. It’s that countries with a law this primitive and archaic seem to demand some kind of conscientious-objector status, even one as simple as picking a different place to holiday. But this issue is probably not a deal breaker. Instead, when Americans do start exploring Indonesia online, or when the word spreads about a friend’s trip here, it is a series of pretty basic lifestyle issues that inevitably comes up to muddy the waters.

There is no doubt that getting around the country outside of the Bali infrastructure is challenging. The government’s proposed new digital tool, Travel X-Change Indonesia (TXI), should be a good start toward addressing this problem. There is also the well-publicized issue of local amenities. The backpackers may be willing to accept hostel accommodation with no air conditioning and Indonesian-style bathroom facilities, but most older American travelers will not. So providing at least some “full-service” accommodation and, just as importantly, making them accessible online, is clearly one key to attracting this market.

Another issue that bothers many actual or potential visitors from North America even more than these inconveniences is: the garbage. America recognized its litter problem back in the 1950s and anyone caught throwing anything on the ground in that country can face a stiff fine and be required to do community service. It should come as no surprise then that American travelers are appalled and often disgusted by the garbage strewn around many Indonesian cities and towns. People here genuinely don’t seem to consider it a problem to toss refuse on the ground or in the rivers, or to wade through piles of garbage at the side of roads. Much of the admiration and interest the Western traveler feels for the customs, the idiosyncrasies, the good humor and the warmth of the people dissipates at the sight and smell of the garbage. It is everywhere, and very few tourists pass through without noting it and spreading the word through online reviews and social media. To put this in a global perspective, Singapore is king in terms of cleanliness, while India and Indonesia are pretty close to the bottom of the list.

The good news is that there has been a dramatic improvement in the sanitation situation in many towns and cities across the nation since 2010 as a result of a host of initiatives at both public and private levels. One of the most significant is the Garbage Banks that originated in Yogyakarta but were developed fully in Surabaya, East Java, with the help of Unilever “do-good” funds – a project which has helped make Indonesia’s second largest city, virtually litter-free. The movement has now spread to 129 cities across the nation. This initiative is a perfect example of volunteerism and business working hand-in-hand. People bring in their garbage, it is weighed and the value is entered into their account and applied (with interest) to critical bills – often electricity bills or property taxes. This movement is gaining momentum and even though these programs still only account for about 14 percent of the overall garbage in the country, they are a promising start.

In an ideal world then, the high tech and big money proposals to build our tourism trade will include this type of grassroots initiatives aimed at educating the people here that garbage isn’t just bad for the environment and for their own and their children’s health, it is also one of the very few blots on Indonesian’s reputation internationally, and will inevitably affect the growth and prosperity of its tourism.  Americans will come, but far more of them will come if we can make some improvements in this key area.

Barbara Russell is a Canadian and a professor of Humanities at the University of Maryland in the United States. She currently lives in Paiton, East Java, Indonesia, where she teaches online and works as a writer and editor.


Pakistan makes nuclear promise over Indian 'aggression'

Pakistan on Tuesday warned it would not desist from using its nuclear arsenal in case of war with longtime rival India.

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told local Express TV channel: “Pakistan has not developed these [nuclear] weapons to showcase. They are meant for our defense.

“I want to make it clear that Pakistan will go out and spare no option if Indian forces enter our territorial borders.”

His remarks came amid heightened tensions between the two nuclear neighbors after a brazen militant attack on an Indian army headquarters in the disputed Kashmir region for which New Delhi blames Islamabad.

Pakistan denies the charge.

“Pakistan is fully prepared to counter any aggression from India in any form,” Asif added.

According to international monitors' estimates, Pakistan and India possess around 100-110 and 80-100 nuclear warheads respectively.

The two arch rivals -- locked in a string of land and sea disputes -- have already fought three fully-fledged wars, two of them over Kashmir, since 1947. The disputed Kashmir region is divided between the two countries which both claim it in full.

What If Muslim Immigrants Don't Want to Be "Like Us"?

When they discuss immigration policy, especially when it applies to the influx of hundreds of thousands of Muslims to the West, pundits don’t necessarily exhibit a liberal bias, or for that matter, a left-leaning view of the world. How would John Locke, Adam Smith or Karl Marx respond to the current debate? My guess is as good as yours.

In fact, when they welcome immigrants, legal and illegal, from the Middle East and elsewhere, and blast the immigration restrictionists as bigots and racists, most Western policy intellectuals display what would commonly be described as the Whig interpretation of history.

According to Whig history, our societies have been moving in an almost linear fashion towards more advanced forms of enlightenment and liberty. Values like secularism, religious freedom, individual rights, women’s rights and free markets, representing the progressive future, were bound to overcome the reactionary forces of the past, represented by religious oppression, absolute monarchism, coercive government and backward-looking tradition, with liberal democracy being the culmination of this forward-looking process.

This view of the world derived in part from the ideas of the Reformation, which was seen as a central progressive force challenging the reactionary Catholic Church. So it was perhaps not surprising that while some of the leaders of the much-derided anti-immigration movement in nineteenth-century America known as the “Know-Nothings” were actually opposed to slavery, and supported extending more rights to women, they were also opposed to the immigration of Catholics into the country, believing that the followers of the pope and his illiberal traditions could end up halting the march towards progress.

The notion of a progressive or a liberal calling for restricting immigration would today sound mind-bending, if not a contradiction in terms. After all, notwithstanding the warnings from the Know-Nothings, the history of Catholic and, for that matter, Jewish immigration into the United States followed the Whig interpretation.

In fact, as political scientist Samuel Huntington put it, members of both religious groups as well as those of other non-Protestant branches followed the route of “Anglicizing” their religious practices and traditions and integrating themselves into the more secular and liberal environment of the country. They embraced what Huntington called the “American Creed,” which he regarded as the unique creation of a dissenting Protestant culture, with its commitment to individualism, equality and the rights to freedom of religion and opinion.

So from that perspective, the assimilation of these immigrants into American society could be integrated into a narrative of progress. They may have not been “like us” in terms of their view of the world when they had arrived into this country, which was why the Know-Nothings campaigned against them.

But then history proved that those who were opposed to the immigration of Catholics and Jews were wrong, playing the role of reactionaries in our forward-looking narrative. Today’s leading liberal pundits assign the role of villains to opponents of Muslim immigration, who are depicted as the modern-day Know-Nothings.

This Whig interpretation of history would recall how the children and grandchildren of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Italy or Poland, and those of eastern European Jews, abandoned their parents’ and grandparents’ archaic religious traditions and sense of religious particularism and ethnic tribalism. They have, indeed, become very much “like us,” and in some cases, more committed to the progressive American creed than members of old Protestant families from New England.

So why should we assume that Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia wouldn’t play the same role in the sequel to that movie? Presumably the same economic, social and cultural pressures that eventually helped Anglicize the Catholics and the Jews in this country would do magic for today’s Muslim immigrants. And those who don’t share that expectations are part of the reactionary past: angry old white men who cannot come to terms with the changing demographics of the country.

But these upbeat expectations assume that many things that may be wrong, including scientific and economic progress, and other forces of modernization like industrialization and urbanization, are so powerful that they force one to leave the traditions of the past behind to embrace liberal and secular forms of identity.

We are told to remember that the granddaughters of the families who emigrated from highly stratified, patriarchal and religiously oppressive Italy’s south now wear a bikini when they go to the beach. As do the granddaughters of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who immigrated to America from the shtetl in eastern Europe. Why shouldn’t that happen to the granddaughters of the Muslim immigrants from Egypt?

But wait a minute. Why do things seem to be happening in reverse in the case of many young Muslim immigrants in Europe and the United States? Their grandmothers, growing up in the 1950s in, say, Alexandria, actually looked “like us,” wearing the latest European fashion and a spiffy swimsuit on the beach. It’s their granddaughters who are now wearing veils, the hijab and the burkini to make sure that they don’t look “like us.”

That many Muslim immigrants resist playing the role assigned to them in the forward-looking narrative may be explained, in part, by the backward turn taken by many Muslim societies where, as in the case of Turkey, the Whiggish interpretation has been turned on its head. As forces of modernization like industrialization and urbanization have accelerated, these societies have actually started shredding what remained of the secular and liberal values that were embraced by many during much of the twentieth century.

Hence the contrast between the dramatic transformation of Western societies during the age of globalization and postmodernism, where the debate has moved to a point where same-sex marriage is now the law of the land in several countries, and the trend towards more oppressive religious standards, intolerance and tribalism in the Muslim world.

So while the liberal West has been opening its doors to Muslim immigration, shrinking Christian communities in the Middle East are being decimated and its members, facing a radical Islamic assault, are forced to leave countries where their ancestors had resided before the Arab invasion.

Liberals who adhere to the Whig interpretation of history face a dilemma. They cannot accept the idea that many Muslims living in the West, not unlike members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel and the United States, don’t want to be “like us,” and if anything detest the liberal and secular values that prevail in the United States and Europe.

Yet hanging to their liberal fantasy, policymakers and pundits accuse “Islamophobes” of wrecking progress and resist considering the inevitable: as these Muslim communities grow and expand, expect not only an end to same-sex marriage. Muslim citizens would then challenge other core principles of the Enlightenment, accusing bikini-wearing women of violating the changing standards of the community.

And as multiculturalism becomes a form of secular religion in the West, many liberals also try to deal with their cognitive dissonance by insisting on the preservation, if not the celebration, of regressive Muslim traditions, like the hijab. Liberal intellectuals, who spend much of their time denigrating evangelical Christians and warning of their plans to challenge the rights of women and gays, become apoplectic if someone dares to criticize Muslim traditions. Islamophobia!

Demonstrating the challenges liberals have in trying to keep their progressive narrative intact, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-styled feminist and a leading global promoter of multiculturalism, appeared recently at a gender-segregated event in a mosque, singing the praise of Islam on the main floor where only men were permitted, while women were watching Trudeau from the balcony.

“Right now we have these political leaders — ironically, politically liberal leaders — who are just putting blinders on their eyes about their values,” Asra Nomani, a liberal Muslim, told Canada’s National Post. “That’s the big differential for liberals, they fancy themselves as honouring the women’s body and yet the segregation by its very definition hyper-sexualizes women’s bodies. That’s the great irony.”

Perhaps not such an irony. As liberals like Trudeau discover that Muslim immigrants are not ready to become “like us,” they conclude that they are left with only one choice: to become more like them.

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

Image: A Muslim couple sitting in a private screening room and wearing 3D goggles, Auckland, New Zealand. Wikimedia Commons/Jorge Royan


The PAP’s tightening grip on Singapore

Social spending boosts were critical in winning back voter support in 2015 to an impressive 70 per cent. Yet it remains to be seen whether the scale and nature of medium-term redistributive measures will sufficiently address public concerns about rising social inequalities and declining upward social mobility.

As such, the PAP is reinforcing existing obstacles to the scrutiny of policy and governance. Constraints on political engagement by independent civil society and formal political actors are being bolstered, both through changes to contempt of court laws and more stringent eligibility criteria for presidential candidates. The emphatic 9.8 per cent poll swing back to the PAP in the 2015 general election has instilled greater confidence to consolidate and extend this tightening of political space.

The first of these reforms, the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, passed by parliament in August, lowers the threshold for contempt of court. The threat, enforcement and interpretation of contempt of court and defamation laws already serve as a powerful means for intimidating and/or punishing critics, opponents and analysts of Singapore’s politics and governance. Serious debate about the integrity and independence of the judiciary has long been impossible for the same reason.

The Bill will lower the bar for what qualifies as scandalising the courts by diluting the need for a ‘real risk’ of such to simply a ‘risk’. Maximum fines have also risen from approximately S$20,000 (US$14,700) to S$100,000 (US$73,300), while jail sentences have tripled from one to three years. Offenders can be hit with both or either penalties.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam has justified the amendments as maintaining the sanctity and reputation of the courts. But independent journalists, activists and human rights advocates worry about a potential tightening of the clamp on legitimate political reporting and comment. In particular, the Bill is vague on what constitutes ‘prejudging’ of a case and when ‘fair and accurate reporting of court proceedings’ is violated. The ambiguous definition of inaccurate reporting assumes greater significance because authorities are often shy about commenting or answering questions from independent journalists on controversial matters.

In 2013, for example, journalist and filmmaker Lynn Lee published excerpts from interviews with two Chinese national bus drivers facing criminal proceedings for an ‘illegal strike’. These workers claimed to have been assaulted by police officers but Lee claimed attempts to extract a response to these allegations from either the Ministry of Home Affairs or the Singapore Prison Service proved fruitless. Such stonewalling in the face of reasonable requests for information and comment from authorities is a routine problem according to one of Singapore’s most reputed (read independent) blog sites, The Online Citizen. The risks to contentious publishing are now rising.

Hot on the heels of this reform, the Singapore government announced on 15 September its intention to tighten the eligibility criteria for contesting the elected post of the president. This office was created in 1991 as a bulwark against the possibility of a freak election result ushering in a non-PAP government. The shift from appointment to election was accompanied by enhanced presidential powers to make key public service appointments and to veto government decisions on the spending of accumulated reserves.

But while the election reform accorded a measure of formal political authority for a president with such powers, this institutional initiative was also accompanied by dynamics and political effects unanticipated by PAP leaders. Inadvertently, a wider opportunity for political competition opened.

In the most recent 2011 presidential election, the government’s endorsed candidate and former Deputy Prime Minister, Tony Tan, prevailed by just 0.34 per cent of the vote ahead of former PAP backbencher Tan Cheng Bock. Even more alarmingly for the PAP was the 25 per cent support for former civil servant Tan Jay See, who subsequently joined the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.

Under the intended changes though, neither candidate would seem to qualify for the next presidential election due in August 2017. The qualifying criteria for private sector candidates are to be raised from the existing requirement to have been a chairman or chief executive of a company with at least S$100 million (approximately US$73 million) in paid up capital. In the future, only top executives of a company with S$500 million (approximately US$367 million) in shareholders’ equity will qualify as a private sector candidate.

The PAP appears determined to restore the original function of the elected presidency. This will ensure that even in the event of a change of government the power of the PAP state can still be exerted to effect political control.

Garry Rodan is both Director of the Asia Research Centre and Professor of politics and international relations at Murdoch University.

Accommodating Japan’s youth and women in a silver democracy

Despite common elements, the outcomes of these street protests have differed greatly. Protests in Taiwan and South Korea delivered a serious blow to the ruling parties electorally, but in the 2016 July upper house elections in Japan, the majority voted to support the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). At this point street demonstrations in Japan haven’t had the same impact.

One of the characteristics of political participation by the youth in Japan is the contrast between a growing interest in politics and low participation on election day. The CEO of Niwango, who manages Niconico — a Japanese social media giant — argues that its monthly political opinion poll consistently attracts 30,000 replies in just 15 minutes, far more than major television channels or newspapers. This suggests a strong interest in politics among the younger generation, despite claims to the contrary.

The big question is — if young people are interested in politics, why don’t they vote? There is still no definitive answer, but what is clear is that there is a representation gap. This gap derives from the ageing population engendering feelings of disempowerment among the youth in a ‘silver democracy’.

This gap between political awareness and the sense of marginalisation among certain subsets of the population is the driving force behind changes in political participation in Japan. Two other forces carry weight.

First is the top-down adjustment of the voting age to accommodate teenage voters. The July upper house election was the first national election after the Japanese government lowered the voting age to 18. Since then high schools have become the core institutions in teaching political participation strictly in terms of electoral participation.

The majority of teenagers voters voted for the LDP. According to a survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, a total of 51 per cent of 18-year-olds turned out to vote, a substantially higher percentage than for 20-year-olds. From the perspective of the ruling party, the top-down accommodation of youth successfully strengthened its voter platform.

The fact that 18- and 19-year-olds were granted the vote as a result of top-down reform, rather than as a hard-fought political concession, will likely shape their voting behaviour in the longer term. They will likely be less motivated to campaign for change than if this voting reform had been the result of sustained political action by Japan’s youth. For most young Japanese, their initial experience was not a vote for change, but rather to learn and to comply with the current political system. It remains to be seen how well this modified electoral system will provide a voice for those youth who do desire change and to what extent it maintains political stability.

The second new force in Japanese politics is the increasing importance of gender. Discussions about and by women in politics have accelerated through internet blogs and via Twitter. In February, a hard-hitting political phrase, Nihon shine — ‘Go to hell, Japan’ — went viral. The phrase originated from a blogpost by an anonymous working mother decrying the fact that her one-year-old child had been denied a place at nursery school — ‘My child was denied enrolment in nursery school, go to hell Japan’. The woman was driven to the verge of giving up her job.

The blog post attacked Abe’s womenomics agenda — which includes policies to promote ‘dynamic engagement of all citizens’, ‘countermeasures to the falling birth-rate’ and a ‘child allowance’ — as useless. The now-popular phrase ‘Go to hell’ crystallised the underlying frustration shared by women across age groups. As womenomics was a key pillar of Abe’s electoral platform and his policy to revitalise Japanese economy, the voice of this woman spoke to a core political concern of the government.

While the phrase ‘Go to hell, Japan’ was, unsurprisingly, severely criticised, it perfectly captured the frustration many Japanese women feel at being asked to work more and raise more children without effective government policies to support them. The phrase inadvertently set an example on how to delegitimise a major political platform of government.

The blog was picked up by a parliamentarian from the Democratic Party, the main opposition party, and was debated at a Diet session. Prime Minister Abe reacted by pointing out the anonymous character of the blog and questioning the existence of such a woman. His comment that ‘we cannot verify this’ only increased public attention, with numerous women stating that they identified with the blogger. Since then, the issue of nursery schools has become one of the top political agendas.

While opposition parties in Japan continue to be weak, the ruling party is tempted to keep its pre-election promises vague. But now, the frustrated public are increasingly using the internet as a tool by which marginalised groups — be they women, teenagers or high school students — can influence the political agenda from outside the electoral process.

Japanese leaders and political parties will be tested more by how they respond to online activism, rather than activism on the streets. The integrity of political leaders will be critically tested by their commitment to upholding freedom of speech and information. The challenge for Japanese democracy now will be to secure this emerging political space for women and young people beyond the polling stations.

Nobuhiro Aizawa is an associate professor at the Kyushu University School of Cultural and Social Studies. 

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Reinventing Japan’.


A rise in anti-Chinese rhetoric - Indonesia and Malaysia have been treading the same despicable and dangerous path

A rise in anti-Chinese rhetoric - Indonesia and Malaysia have been treading the same despicable and dangerous path

In Indonesia we have witnessed the racially-linked attack at a Transjakarta bus stop, the attack on Buddhist temples in Tanjung Bilai, and racially-framed attacks on Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (best known as Ahok) by some of his opponents. Malaysia has seen a ‘pro-Malay’ red shirt rally in Kuala Lumpur, racist statements made by leaders in right wing groups such as ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia) and Perkasa, and the allegation by some UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) leaders that the largely Chinese DAP (Democratic Action Party) will undermine the political position of ethnic Malays.

Such incidents have left some asking whether there is a rise of ‘anti-Chinese’ politics in both countries.

There is no simple answer, and many different ways of viewing the recent increase of expressions against ethnic Chinese among some segments in Indonesian and Malaysian societies.

Malaysia and Indonesia share similar demographics – Muslim majority countries with a sizeable Chinese minority who are mostly non-Muslims. Yet they also went through different political, social and economic changes. Therefore, while parallel patterns do exist, we must also remember to situate ‘anti-Chinese’ politics in broader contexts, and not overlook different trajectories and contingencies of this development in each country.

However, for me, three features and their intersection are common to both countries and underpin the rise of anti-Chinese rhetoric. These are political contestation, economic disparity and religious differences.

First, political contestation.

There has always been suspicion about the growing political influence of ethnic Chinese and concerns that they will take power among some segments of non-Chinese Malaysians and Indonesians. Yet, while such rhetoric remains influential, political contestation today is much more complicated.

In Malaysia, the fragmentation of Malay-Muslim politics, together with the weakening dominance of UMNO has led to the popularisation of ‘anti-DAP’ sentiment, which unfortunately has been conflated with ‘anti-Chinese’ language among some UMNO leaders and supporters.

Similarly, in Indonesia, traditional political elites and their fear of losing power to rising and popular Chinese figures such as Ahok stir ‘anti-Ahok’ sentiment. This has also unfortunately led to some ‘anti-Chinese’ statements.

Second, economic disparity.

Even though there are increasing numbers of non-Chinese business elites and members of the middle class, the perception that ethnic Chinese are economically better off is still quite prevalent.

However, what drives anti-Ahok and anti-DAP attitudes today has more to do with their perceived pro-middle class, pro-developer and pro-meritocracy policies – in which some old villages or informal settlements have been demolished for urban redevelopment and poor people might have been marginalised. Dissatisfaction with Ahok’s and DAP’s economic policies, respectively in Jakarta and in Penang, has transformed into ‘anti-Chinese’ sentiments among some people.

Third, religious differences.

Religion has complicated political contestation and economic disparity in both Indonesia and Malaysia. Religious differences not only exist between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also among Muslims who have different attitudes towards the role of Islam in the public and political spheres.

Yet, non-Muslims — often linked (yet not exclusively) to ethnic Chinese — have been perceived by some Muslims as a threat to Muslim solidarity.

For example, progressive leaders in Malaysia’s Islamic-based party Amanah have been labelled as ‘DAP’s agent’, while some progressive leaders in Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama have been seen as too ‘Chinese-friendly’. There are even some baseless accusations that DAP wants to establish a ‘Christian state’ and Ahok aims to ‘Christianise’ Jakarta.

The suspected growing political power of ethnic Chinese camouflages the polarisation of Malay politics and the insecurity of political elites in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the alleged Chinese dominance in the economic field conceals rising intra-ethnic inequality, especially in Malaysia. At the same time, the purported ‘Christianisation’ effort disguises the internal dynamic among Muslims.

Yet, the intersection of political contestation, economic disparity and religious differences underpin the recent ‘anti-Chinese’ remarks and incidents in both Malaysia and Indonesia.

Hew Wai Weng is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.