On the 17th of April, Joko Widodo was re-elected President of Indonesia after his opponent Prabowo Subianto ran a campaign centred largely on dogmatic and demagogic Sinophobia. By pandering to extremes within society that in the 1960s led to the genocide of Chinese Indonesians, today’s small minority of ethnic Han Chinese continue to be an issue that certain hyper-nationalist politicians invoke in order to pander to the lowest common electoral denominator.
That being said, Prabowo’s election strategy of trying to link his opponent to ethnic Chinese and a greater “Chinese conspiracy” failed and the middle of the road incumbent was comfortably re-elected.
Yesterday in The Philippines, the opposition to candidates supporting the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte were resoundingly defeated in legislative elections. The losing candidates ran a vicious and mean spirited campaign that failed to proffer any cohesive alternative to the continually popular policies of the reformist President Rodrigo Duterte. Instead, the opposition’s campaign called Duterte supporters “China lovers” while invoking hatred against the People’s Republic of China, Chinese migrants and Filipinos with Chinese backgrounds.
The unfortunate opposition campaigns in both Indonesia and The Philippines reflect the fact that in much of south east Asia, Sinophobia is often used as part of a hyper-nationalist election strategy in order to rile up ethnic majorities against both local Chinese minorities and against the Chinese nation itself.
In every objective sense, this ultra-racist strategy is counterproductive on several fronts. First of all, as China is the second largest economy in the world and one that happens to share a common geographical space with its south east Asian neighbours, running jingoistic campaigns which could alienate a key economic, trading and developmental partner are not only counter-intuitive and counterfactual but if extrapolated to their logical conclusion, such strategies are economically suicidal.
Secondly, while the worst days of inter-racial violence are over in south east Asia, the potential to provoke race riots through Sinophobic rhetoric makes it so that such racist politicking should be avoided at all costs.
Finally, as Chinese minorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and The Philippines tend to be net economic contributors to society, there is no reason to provoke a minority that has no political ambitions beyond making economic and positive civic contributions to society.
Thus, while it was disheartening that the opposition in Indonesia and The Philippines used Sinophobia as an election strategy, the good news is that the strategy failed miserably in both ASEAN states. In Indonesia, a moderate status quo incumbent leadership won a comfortably victory and in The Philippines, President Duterte’s economic partnership and diplomatic rapprochement with China was not successfully exploited by an opposition who used every dirty racist trick in the book against Duterte’s political allies. Instead, Duterte’s supporters scored a substantial victory.
Both elections not only demonstrate that social moderation won the day over racism, but it also indicates that economic realism has won over fantastical protectionism, the likes of which would destroy the economic fortunes of a developing country.
Thus, both Indonesians and Filipinos have much to celebrate after the completion of long awaited elections. In both cases, the enemies of progress and social harmony lost to forces more inclined towards realism and forward thinking.