LAST August 17, in celebration of independence day, the Indonesian authorities at Atjeh, a highly conservative Muslim province at the northern tip of Sumatra, decided to run out the local Chinese population, numbering about 8000. The Chinese, mostly small retail traders, were given fifteen minutes’ notice to pack such of their belongings as they could gather together and were then loaded on trucks and driven to Medan on the east coast. The charge for the journey was 300 rupiahs a head, in realistic terms about $3. Along the way, however, the Indonesian guards robbed them of most of their spare cash, and few had anything left when they arrived at Medan.

Here they were split into three groups. The largest batch went to a school, the Rumah Miskin Tiong Hoa (“Chinese Poorhouse”) between Medan and the port of Belawan. The others were divided between two tobacco estates, one at the village of Tanden and the other at Sampali. The Indonesian authorities provided neither bedding nor food for the Chinese, who had to depend on supplies occasionally smuggled in by the more courageous of their countrymen living in Medan. At the best of times, the food was inadequate, and at the worst nonexistent. At the tobacco estates, where the Chinese were confined in the drying sheds, the earthen floors became churned into quagmires during the rainy season.

One ship from China arrived and repatriated — though that is scarcely the appropriate word for secondand third-generation Chinese living in Indonesia—about a thousand of the internees. But the momentary hope that this would provide an avenue of escape for the rest was dashed by the announcement that Peking intended to send no more ships. The Indonesian authorities, for their part, said they were ready to provide ships but were unable to do so because they feared the authorities would turn them back when they reached China.

A television team sought and obtained permission to visit the camps. They received a hostile reception from the Chinese, who, resenting this intrusion into their privacy and misery, smashed the TV camera and with a knife slightly wounded an accompanying Indonesian officer. Military reinforcements arrived to restore order and to demand the culprit. By obvious prearrangement, forty young Chinese girls and boys stepped forward. They were taken to the local military headquarters, stripped of all their clothing except their underpants, and confined to a room without bedding and with insufficient food. They were still there many weeks later.

Symptoms of unrest

On October 29, Colonel Leo Lopulisa, chief of staff of the military district, said he feared that local hotheads might start murdering the Chinese. This was a fear that the Chinese themselves fully shared. Not only in Medan but all over Indonesia activists were busy marking Chinese homes and shops and businesses with triangular patches, much as Hitler’s legions marked the homes of the Jews for future action a quarter of a century ago.

Though it has not attracted much attention abroad, being beastly to the Chinese, especially those unfortunate enough not to have taken Indonesian citizenship and therefore by law the subjects of the Communist regime on the mainland, has become a national preoccupation in Indonesia and one of the more unhealthy symptoms of the immense unease that still fills this great archipelago and its population of 109 million. No one really knows how many people have been killed since the abortive September 30 coup in 1965. Estimates run from as low as 200,000, a figure often used by Indonesian officials for foreign consumption, to as high as 800,000, including the Chinese killings, which are put at anything from 15,000 to 40,000.

By the middle of 1966, the New Order, as the predominantly military regime led by General Suharto is known, had succeeded in clamping a fairly tight lid on Indonesian inhumanity to Indonesians. The Chinese minority of about three and a half million remains as a convenient scapegoat, however, and everywhere may be bullied and beaten and robbed with impunity, a safety valve for all the other deep-seated tensions. In short, conditions are worse in Indonesia than some of its friends are prepared to concede.

The resilience of Sukarno

Western embassies in Jakarta, enormously and understandably relieved that the country was saved at the brink from becoming a fullfledged ally of Peking’s, favor a simplistic view of the events of the past fifteen months. By a miracle, according to this version, General Suharto rallied enough military support to prevent the Indonesian Communist Party from taking over on October 1, 1965. Thereafter, until March 12, 1966, when President Sukarno by decree transferred executive authority to General Suharto, the balance of power, though tipped generally against the President, nevertheless tended to seesaw. A tactical alliance between the army and the various action fronts, notably those from the high schools and the universities, provided Suharto with the field for maneuver against Sukarno.

Despite occasional peaks and depressions, which sometimes tend to obscure the trend, so the theory runs, the graph of the President’s power has continued to decline since March. He stood out against the banning of the Indonesian Communist Party and lost. He was determined to defend his closest ally, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dr. Subandrio, the architect of the Jakarta-Peking axis, but was obliged to stand by while a special military tribunal sentenced him to death (though as President he has the right to commute the sentence). He was against Indonesia’s returning to the United Nations, to the International Monetary Fund, and to the World Bank, but on all these issues he was overruled by the presidium.

“I don’t mind how many conferences you go to with Malaysia over confrontation so long as they all fail,” he told Adam Malik, his new foreign minister, on the eve of the Bangkok talks last May. Yet Malik, with the full approval of Suharto, brought confrontation to an end.

Sukarno put what he used to call nation-building ahead of economic development. He spurned Western aid and banned foreign investment. Now Western aid is anxiously sought, and received; and as the Sultan of Jogjakarta, presidium minister for economic and financial affairs, told a New York gathering in October, “Foreign capital is no longer considered an evil, but welcomed as a necessary factor in the development of the country.”

This is the broad outline of what has occurred. Yet for all his reverses, Sukarno has demonstrated extraordinary resilience. With his health and his confidence apparently restored and his capacity for intrigue undiminished, he has succeeded in reconstructing some sort of power base; he has managed to obstruct and to manipulate some of the more unwelcome decisions of Suharto and the presidium in a way that has taken the cutting edge off the worst of his defeats.

For instance, in the absence of Foreign Minister Adam Malik, Ruslan Abdulgani, who contrived the Sukarno ideology, leads the mission to the United Nations. While running with what characteristically is called the New Order, Abdulgani remains the watchdog for the Old.

Factions pro and con

For a time, the two principal political parties, the Nahdatul Ulama (the NU), an ultraconservative Muslim party, and the Indonesian Nationalist Party (the PNI), appeared likely to jump on the antiSukarno bandwagon. Though it may sound like a contradiction in terms, however, many of the members of the NU, though militantly anti-Communist, are staunchly proSukarno. They are afraid that any further weakening of Sukarno’s position will result in the revival of the more moderate Muslim party, the Masjumi, whose leaders were deeply involved in the 1958 revolt in Sumatra and the Celebes, and that this, in turn, will cause the rapid decline of the NU.

A right-wing takeover of the PNI leadership suggested that it, too, would join the anti-Sukarno bandwagon. The effect, however, was to split the party, and though the leadership agrees that Sukarno’s absolute rule must be ended, it also appreciates the fact that Sukarno himself, long identified with the PNI, is about all that the party, lacking any sort of ideology, has left.

Former Communist Party members, especially in Central Java, have begun to find a home in the PNI ranks. When Suharto proposed enlarging the House of Representatives and the Provisional People’s Consultative Congress, with appointed members selected from among Sukarno’s most active opponents, Sukarno could count on enough genuine political support at the end of 1966 to talk with confidence about the need for elections.

The reaction in Java

Under the impact of the various action fronts, with KAMI, the Indonesian University Students’ Action Front, in the van, West Java is solidly against Sukarno. The campaign there has succeeded in its purpose of destroying his credibility. The idol has been shown to have feet of clay.

In Central and East Java, however, the conservative Muslims were shocked to find Christian and Muslim action groups not only working together but even, at mass meetings, praying together, and they retreated violently. For the left wing there, Sukarno was the last hope.

Though Suharto’s generals worked diligently to winkle out the Communists from the local military commands, Sukarno’s supporters remained strong in the navy, in the marines, in the police mobile brigade, in the army divisions in Central and East Java, in south and east Kalimantan, in south Sumatra, and even in the Jakarta command.

At the beginning of November, when Jakarta buzzed with rumors of the ultimate conflict between the pro-Sukarno and the anti-Sukarno factions, a Westerner living in East Java summed up the situation there: “Security is drum-tight,” he said. “But if Sukarno comes here and calls for revolution against Jakarta, twenty-five million East Javanese will be behind him to a man.”

General Suharto, who has a strongsense of the need for proceeding in a constitutional way, has thus found himself faced with an awkward dilemma in handling Sukarno. The students in particular feel that constitutional efforts alone are not enough, and that some fairly vigorous extraconstitutional pressures need to be applied also. At the beginning of October, wild student demonstrations outside Sukarno’s palace in Jakarta (the President was away at his weekend palace in Bogor) precipitated a crisis in which the army used force to disperse its erstwhile allies and sent sixty-two wounded to the hospital.

The students’ weakness is that the demonstration is their only weapon. Until March they used it courageously and effectively, but thereafter they resorted to it too often for their own popularity with the people at large and too violently to please Suharto, who is determined to be the only pacesetter of the New Order.

Money problems

On these shifting political and security sands, Suharto and his government have set out to cope with their inherited economic problems. When they totaled the foreign exchange in the till at the beginning of the year, they discovered they had about $8 million. Their export anticipations for the year were around the $350 to $400 million mark, and their minimum import requirements totaled $560 million. Capital repayments and interest on foreign loans due during the year amounted to $530 million. Indonesia, in short, was bankrupt.

To the vast majority of the rural population a cash economy is not a matter of life and death. Most people in most places managed to get by, though famine struck the island of Lombok, with heavy loss of life. In the cities, however, the future seems hopeless.

At the end of 1955 the money in circulation amounted to 12 billion rupiahs. In July, 1966, it totaled 10,000 billion. It doubled during the first quarter of 1966, doubled again in the second quarter and again in the third quarter. The cost-of-living index rose from its base of 100 in 1957 to 36,000 in 1965, 150,000 in July, 1966, and 180,000 in September. Wages have remained relatively constant. A senior government official earns about 600 rupiahs (between $6 and $7) a month. Contributions in kind, especially rice, have become an essential addition to the weekly pay envelope. White-collar workers do not just go in for moonlighting. They flit from occupational flower to occupational flower like bees, gathering enough honey in each to keep them going.

Corruption has become a built-in necessity. Almost no one can live without engaging in it in one form or another. In many ways the New Order is not strikingly different from the Old. The same horses are simply running under new colors. Suharto apart, the military, who increasingly are moving into positions of authority, are no less venal than their civilian predecessors. The situation is hopeful, however, in the apparent determination of Suharto, the Sultan of Jogjakarta, and Adam Malik, the big three of the presidium, to abandon the international irresponsibility that characterized policies in the recent past and to approach the appalling domestic mess with candor and courage.

Early in November drastic credit restrictions started to slow down the money supply, and to reduce the black market rate of the rupiah. Infationary prestige projects were halted. After a budget deficit of 12 billion rupiahs in 1966, the government is looking to a balanced budget in 1967.

Just what this will mean to the people in pegged wages, and even higher prices, has not been fully explained, and it remains to be seen whether Suharto and his team have a strong enough base or enough moral fiber to resist the pressures to which they are certain to be subjected when the squeeze really begins to hurt. The military have won few friends by their past behavior, and it is unlikely that their demands for austerity will be welcomed by people who see, in contrast to their own gloomy lot, the new Mercedes cars and houses that the generals, Suharto and Nasution excepted, are bestowing on themselves.

The American presence

Averell Harriman, who visited Jakarta after the Manila conference, is reported to have advised Washington that the Suharto government is the best that may reasonably be expected, and this is the thinking that dictated the U.S. rapprochement with the new regime. American cotton to set idle mills in motion and food to feed the hungry were the first steps. The next move the U.S. Embassy contemplates is to provide food for work on a pilot project in Central Java, where the government hopes to restore rice-growing areas that have long deteriorated.

With the enormous natural assets that Indonesia possesses, vast economic development is clearly possible. The shallow Java Sea is believed, for instance, to cover one of the world’s richest and readily exploitable oil fields, and production from Sumatran fields could easily double or treble Indonesia’s $50 million in oil royalties within the next three years.

Factors such as this, and, of course, the liquidation of the Indonesian Communist Party, have helped Indonesia to secure new foreign credits and to win favorable consideration from a Western consortium on the question of rescheduling repayment of earlier loans. A bad debt has become a calculated risk, an improvement of note in any commercial community.

Economics and politics cannot be separated, however, and on all sides in Indonesia there are conflicts within conflicts and disputes within disputes. In this land, even those holding the highest office are accustomed to consult their gurus and soothsayers in the belief that foresight may help to guide their present actions. With some remarkable foresight of their own, the current crop of gurus are wrapping their clues in enigmatic “solutions” that are capable of infinite interpretations. It would be difficult to be more exact than this in predicting the future in Indonesia today.