Prejudice and protest: the long-term effects of ethnic discrimination on anti-China protest in Indonesia

Work in Progress

The rise of China has attracted hopes and fears across its economic partners, but the popular responses to China’s economic expansion have accompanied a rise in anti-China sentiment among citizens. This study investigates how existing ethnic conflicts may further stimulate such anti-China sentiments in response to China’s economic expansion. We explore these dynamics by looking at the subnational variation in anti-China protests in a multi-ethnic democracy, Indonesia. The country has a dismal history of discrimination against ethnic Chinese under former dictator Suharto, and the ethnic Chinese minority group has been scapegoated in times of economic or political crises. Ethnic Chinese Indonesians have long been targeted for their (perceived) economic dominance and loyalty towards China. Local political elites often take advantage of such ethnic prejudice for their political gains. Given this, we contend that Chinese investment leads to anti-China protests more extensively in Indonesian localities where ethnic discrimination against Chinese Indonesian is more prevalent and salient. We further study the long-term authoritarian origins of such anti-Chinese sentiment by comparing anti-Chinese sentiment across the regions that experienced ethnic discrimination against Chinese Indonesians under dictatorship. The study shows the long-term effects of domestic anti-Chinese ethnic discrimination on public opinion towards the largest economic partner, China.

Sanghoon Kim-Leffingwell
Sanghoon Kim-Leffingwell
Senior Lecturer and Assistant Director