The Islamist campaign against the giant representation of the third-century war leader Guan Yu, who is worshiped as a god in several Chinese religions, began online and resulted in a protest outside the Confucian temple in Tuban, near the Java Sea coast, where the statue was unveiled last month.
Muslims condemned it online as an “uncivilised” insult to Islam and indigenous Javans and a crowd gathered this week outside the East Javan parliament in the archipelago’s second-largest city of Surabaya to demand its destruction.
Anti-Chinese sentiment is fuelled by Beijing’s growing regional influence. Indonesia last month unrolled a map depicting an expansion to its maritime territory with the naming of the waters off its northern perimeter North Natuna Sea.
Although it lies inside Jakarta’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the waters north of the Natuna Islands bordering the South China Sea have no name but are often designated as part of the contested sea.
Statues seen as idolatrous have been destroyed or vandalised around the country in recent years, and several Chinese temples have suffered from arson attacks. Wrapping the statue with a large white cover was only seen as a temporary solution by the temple after pressure from an official religious council.
Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community is largely Christian, Buddhist or Confucian and makes up less than 5 per cent of the archipelago’s population.
“Anti-Chinese sentiment has become quite strong,” said Aan Anshori of the East Java Muslim Anti-Discrimination Network, which opposed covering the monument. “It’s quite worrying to think that these sentiments could be used by politicians in the future.” Islamists falsely claimed that Joko Widodo was a Chinese Christian during his successful 2014 presidential campaign.
The Guan Fu statue, which took more than a year to build and cost about US$188,000, was the largest of its type in Asean, Indonesia’s Museum of World Records said.
“It is growing religious intolerance, making their own interpretation of the Quran and using that hostile interpretation against the Chinese temple,” said Andreas Harsono, a Human Rights Watch representatives in Indonesia. “They say that it is showing that China is dominating Indonesia.”
Muslim activist Didik Muadi said the statue would be destroyed if the government did not take action.
Didik told the Tempo news portal: “Actually we can allow them to build the statue, just not as high as it was and it should be in the temple, not outside. We are tolerant.”