Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is this just a lull before a social turmoil?



Thursday, 10 December 2009 10:07 


 WHILE Papua New Guineans are looking forward to Christmas Day, Asians in this blessed country are looking beyond this red letter date, and with so much apprehensions, anxieties and dread.

Taking the threat seriously, they are growingly concerned about the violent prospects of December 31, New Year’s Eve. This is the day when all Asian-operated small businesses are supposed to cease operations once and for all, or else they go up in smoke in the fashion of burning pyrotechnics at a Christmas carnival.

The “cease-your-business-operation” order has been issued by a group of faceless and nameless anarchic individuals who are spearheading a hate campaign against Asians in PNG.

In particular, the targets are those small entrepreneurs who run successful businesses – retail stores, shops, grocery, among others -- in urban centers across the country.

Among Asians, it is only the Chinese, especially the old-timers, who have persevered in putting up such enterprises and succeeded. Other Asian people – Malaysians, Indonesians, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thais, among others – came to this country as professionals and technical people; they are not here to work as store owners or storekeepers.

Unfortunately, the generic tag that expatriates carry conveniently lumps them together with the Chinese in the same rubbish bag. All being Asians, they have also become the target of racial hatred and maybe later – racial violence.

This has drawn a sharp reaction from the Philippine Ambassador to PNG, Madam Shirley Ho-Vicario, who resented media reports that had identified an Asian nationality as simply “Asian” and not as one where he comes from.

 She has wished that the country’s newspapers, radio and television would be more specific in their reference to such person who committed some transgression, like for instance, “Filipino”, “Malaysian”, “Chinese”, thus sparing other nationalities of possible backlash which could be physical harm or negative sentiments arising from the news report, instead of just identifying him in the generic.

These hate campaigners are claiming to have the support from various sectors of the society – including a Parliamentary bi-partisan committee investigating the anti-Asian May riot and various civil organizations.

However, this is a claim that has been shoved under layers of questions by thinking Papua New Guinean public because of the means with which they push their silly, stupid and out-of-this-world cause and agenda.

Sensible members of the Papua New Guinean society readily admit that whatever omissions that have ignited such hatred against Asians are of their own making and that of the very government of the day.

This is one anomaly that goes back to Day One of their nationhood but it is only now that they are realizing this: it is a social cancer that has spread wide and far. They were the ones who put those politicians into office, believing that they will do their jobs of making better the lives of the ordinary people.

But as it is, the country’s elected leaders have failed and this is now being attested by a million of people or so who have been marginalized and economically deprived, and are now being used as pawns by the city anarchists to drive away Asians out of this country.

Asians – the Chinese for one -- are just here to make a living because Papua New Guineans gave them the opportunity to do so and they are giving back in return in the form of a lively local economy, helped by the many little stores and shops they have put up.

And yet, these hate peddlers are ready to cause anarchy all over the city on December 31 by burning such innocent, productive establishments.

For more than eight months now, they have been crawling all over the villages and settlements and poisoning the minds of unschooled people that these Asians are the cause of their economic miseries; that they are robbing them of their supposed livelihoods, and depriving them of jobs that they should have right now but are instead in the hands of these people.

Of course, the members of the civil society who got sense in their heads believe otherwise, and they are in great number. Who would want to see their community, especially Port Moresby, go up in smoke on New Year’s Eve, except for these nameless, faceless animals?

These law-abiding citizens believe that should Asians opt to flee the country, there could be more ensuing problems, not only for the entire peace-loving citizenry but for the country’s economy as well.

If the Chinese close shop, who could we expect to takeover from them … the grassroots? I don’t think so.

After the Chinese of Honiara fled the country following the burning of the city in 2006 which ravaged their business houses, the enterprises that they left behind had never recovered, nearly killing the local economy.

It was only when they began coming back to Honiara two years later that the very same businesses have been resurrected. It goes to show that the locals who drove them away were incapable of putting up similar enterprises and running them with success. This scenario could surely be repeated in PNG.

Up to this time, the country’s police hierarchy is silent about the New Year’s Eve threat. Or maybe, they re just waiting and looking, but then I would like to give them the benefit of doubts.

The top echelons must have ignored it and dismissed it as pure “nonsense”. Or it could also be possible that like many Papua New Guineans, they are clueless as to who are causing this social intrigue.

When the first carnage erupted last May, beginning with a public rally attended by people who had nothing to do better in life, and then ending up in rioting and looting of several Asian-operated shops and trade stores, police were caught with their pants down.

Now they should know better.

If Asian expatriates are being gnawed at by insecurity amidst the advent of the Yuletide season culminating on New Year’s Eve, their respective ambassadors are even more worried and are having sleepless nights over this, so to speak.

On both personal and official levels of communications, these envoys have expressed worries to one another over what could happen 21 days from now -- to them and to their respective wards.

Asians in PNG are overseen by their respective embassies whose ambassadors are the highest government officials of their country holding office here. Their job is to look after their compatriots’ welfare, seeing to it that each citizen are obeying the laws of the host country and are free from harm or any form of threats.

That’s why the anarchists’ emailed threat to Asian businesses has become a great cause of concern among the members of the 21-nation Diplomatic Corps in Port Moresby.

During its monthly meeting held on December 4, the envoys from Asia raised concerns over the safety of their respective citizens here. One question they had asked pertained to the accuracy of the information arising from the threat that has been circulated:

“Is it true? Are the police aware of this? Is the Government aware of this? If so, what do they intend to do to prevent such carnage from actually taking place?”

“What does the Government intend to do to protect our citizens?”

Such questions obviously indicate the level of trust that the diplomatic community places on the local authorities, particularly the police establishment. Their confidence is somewhat being undermined by the fact that the perceived threat persists up to the present time, which signals to high heavens that no drastic move is being taken to mitigate the situation, at least on the psychological aspect of the issue.

Most of all, it also questions the police capability to actually gather first-hand intelligence as to what level of intensity such impending anarchy has progressed so far.

Do the police have assets among the grassroots to accurately pinpoint and identify individuals who are in direct cahoots with the brains of the anti-Asian movement? There could be more questions to ask.

Although the hate campaign is targeting Asians, one European ambassador has nevertheless expressed grave anxiety, saying it has now become a European concern and not just Asian’s. “While we are Europeans, we are very much concerned because we are a brother of yours here in PNG …”

Forging a common stand, the members of the Diplomatic Corps have agreed to call on relevant senior Government officials and present their concerns.

But with the brouhaha and excitement generated by green-lighting the US$15 billion PNG LNG project, the biggest resource development ever undertaken in PNG, to push ahead, will those relevant Government officials be responsibly involved enough to act?

Or is it Christmas as usual and that there’s no need to act in haste?

I would like to keep my fingers crossed, anyway.

Merry Christmas!

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