Open-door policy, classical and modern-day “coolie-nization”

Haris Rusly Moti
The author is a veteran of the 1998 Yogyakarta
student movement and founder of the
Intelligence Finance Community (Infinity)

IO – Revisions to the 16th Economic Policy Package have been announced. The package contains codicils for economic liberalization, openness, and ease of foreign investment. In fact, upon close study, we see that this policy package is actually a form of “colonization” and modern “coolie-nization” (slave employment), as it allows many types of businesses to be 100%-owned by foreign capital. In fact, business fields that are the precious livelihood of Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Businesses (Usaha Mikro, Kecil, dan Menengah – “UMKM”) and even cooperatives are allowed to accept a 100% foreign capital share. There is barely any protection of our national economic sovereignty any longer.

When we take a closer look at this much-heralded policy package, we see that it is not far different from an opendeur politiek or “open-door policy”, meaning “fully-open to foreign capital” such as the Dutch Trading Company implemented during their exploitative colonization of our country.

The Deluge of the French Revolution
France, 1789-1799. In this decade, social revolution flooded ruthlessly across the country, clearly the result of the conspiracy of flourishing capitalists against long-suffering commoners. This flood of anger swept away the reign of absolute monarchy that had long allied itself with corrupt religious elites. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were sentenced to death and decapitated, examples of the “humane execution” of the guillotine. Louis XVI was the luckless last descendant of the flamboyant and corrupt dictator, Louis XIV, the king most remembered for his infamous slogan, “L’état, c’est moi” (“I am the State”). His dictatorial behavior was said to have been inspired by Niccolo Machiavelli’s Il Principe (The Prince).

In France, liberalists succeeded in manipulating the common people to help them bring down the monarchy. They created freedom and equality in politics and law. The nobility and religious elites found to their dismay they no longer enjoyed power and privilege: everyone had equal political rights and was seen as equal before the law. These liberalists also wanted economic liberty and equality, particularly in terms of business. The Government was not allowed to interfere with the national economy, including colonial affairs – it could only watch and regulate. The liberalists dd not want royalty to interfere, let alone monopolize, economic exploitation.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (“freedom, equality, brotherhood”). This motto was the war cry that moved the revolution. The idea of revolution was broadcast to inspire all Europe. Liberalists in European countries started to rise. European countries, including the Netherlands, were caught up in the political spillage of the French Revolution. The French flood finally brought down the 3G (Gold, Glory, and Gospel) idea of “old-school” colonization, as this principle tends to benefit only the nobility and religious elite.

Starting in the 1830’s, European liberalists succeeded in obtaining representation in the parliaments of their countries. The liberalists also managed to wrest parliamentary control from the conservatives, who supported monarchical interests, in the Netherlands. Liberalist representatives succeeded in winning a number of revisions concerning political regulation of colonized lands at a Staten Generaal (Dutch Parliament) session. This very important political rule regulated the cultuurstelsel, i.e. the (enforced) cultivation system, which was enacted in 1830 during the rule of Governor General van den Bosch.

During the same year, conservative Bosch was appointed to replace van der Capellen. The Royal Government expected to obtain as much income as possible within as short a period as possible, in order to cover a painful national deficit. The Kingdom of Holland needed money to cover losses they had sustained during the Diponegoro War, more commonly known as De Java Oorlog or the “Javanese War”, a great 5-year (1825-1830) war that utterly destroyed a great country, with its punitive costs of 20,000,000 Guilders.

By 1870, enforced cultivation for most crops was formally terminated, except for coffee (still widely cultivated at massive levels outside of Java until 1915).

Opendeur politiek of Old
Another significant political policy that affected colonial lands was a curiously familiar economic liberalization known as opendeur politiek or “open-door policy”. Thus, all business enterprises in the Netherland Indies would be open for private foreign capital investment, and all investors would receive equal liberty and treatment when investing. The Staten Generaal approved this decision in order to end any royal monopoly in the colonies, thus allowing Dutch businessmen (the primary supporters of the Liberal Party) to have an equal opportunity to invest in – and profit from – businesses in the colonies.

Bung Karno referred to this policy as “modern imperialism”, writing “Since the establishment of the opendeur politiek, especially in 1905, capital allowed entry into Indonesia was not just Dutch capital, but also British capital, also American capital, also Japanese capital, also German capital, also French capital, also Italian capital, and others. Therefore, imperialism in Indonesia since then has been international imperialism.” This appraisal by Indonesia’s first President appeared in his Mencapai Indonesia Merdeka (Achieving Indonesia’s Independence) summary (1933).

In short, opendeur politiek is meant to:

  • First, change the Dutch Indies colony into a foreign capital and investor haven. Incoming foreign capital may be invested in a number of strategic sectors, such as plantations and agriculture (rubber, tea, coffee, tobacco, sugar cane), and mining (tin, lead and petroleum). This is in fact suspiciously similar to the desperate policy implemented by our current government.
  • Second, turn the colonial land into a supplier of raw materials for European factories.
  • Third, turn the colonial land into a captive market for European industrial products.
  • Fourth, exploit extremely cheap labor to work in the plantations, mines, and factories.

To pave the way for opendeur politiek, infrastructure such as irrigation systems was constructed, to support the cultivation and transport of exportable crops. Transportation facilities were developed to ease the flow of foreign investments – to make it easier for cash crops such as coffee, cloves, tobacco, tea, sugar, rubber, etc. to be moved from plantation areas to ports.

Examples of successful infrastructure construction at that time include:

  • The opening of the 110 km-long Semarang-Surakarta railway (1870);
  • The opening of the Surabaya-Pasuruan-Malang railway route (1878);
  • The opening of the Bangil-Malang railway route (1879); and
  • The opening of the Tasikmalaya and Kesugihan railway routes (1894).

All of these transportation facilities were financed and constructed by the Nederlands Indische Stroomtram Maatschappij (NISM), a privately-owned Dutch railway company.

Outside of Java, in 1876 Staats Spoorwegen (another Dutch railway company) constructed the Ulele-Kutaraja (Aceh) route, followed by the Palu Aer-Padang (West Sumatra) route in 1891. In North Sumatra, NV Deli Spoorweg Mij constructed the Labuan-Medan crossing (1886).

The open-door policy turned a vast profit for both the Dutch government and private Dutch capitalists. A flood of plantation and mining yields filled the Netherland warehouses and treasuries. Apart from having successfully mitigated the threat of bankruptcy, the opendeur politiek turned the Netherlands into a nexus of raw material trading in Europe.

Meanwhile, the native population of the Netherland Indies’ suffered greatly. Their economy failed, as the opendeur politiek resulted in the fragile local economy becoming deindustrialized: it could not compete against a flood of superior and cheaper goods from Europe. The railway killed the people’s traditional cattle wagon transportation businesses.

This economic disaster was worsened by the plantation crisis of 1885, when coffee and sugar prices collapsed, with a knock-on effect of land rent and worker wages plummeting. Sound familiar? Yes, it is similar to the current depression of petroleum, coal, and coconut palm oil prices in Indonesia.

Colonization and “Coolienization” Modern times
The word “kompeni” was the spelling and pronunciation used by native Netherland Indies people for the Dutch word “compagnie” – the same as the English word “company”. At first this term was used to refer to the Dutch East Indies Company, the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie or “VOC”. This enterprise initially came to our Archipelago to trade, but later on got greedy and expanded into colonization. When the VOC, profoundly corrupt, went bankrupt in 1799, it was muscled aside by the Royal Government of the Netherlands, who became the colonial exploiters. Since all this was happening in the same country, the people continued to call the Dutch colonists the “kompeni”. Even now, this word brings to mind the acute pain of social, economic, and political oppression that our forefathers suffered, victims of Dutch colonization.

Our nation’s condition has turned darker nowadays, because our current government clings to a “kacung kompeni” (“colonialist stooge”) mentality. Our President, the one who should be leading our country, acts like the Governor General during kompeni days. He oversees the issuance of liberal policies that are suspiciously similar to opendeur politiek, rolling out the red carpet for foreign investors (a.k.a. “the company”) to invest their hot money in Indonesia. It has apparently never seemed worthwhile to this regime to nurture and mentor our depressed national industry. Ironically, Donald Trump, a great capitalist entrepreneur who leads the mother of all capitalist countries, the United States of America, is currently struggling to protect his country’s national industry from the hollowing-out of Chinese industry. Then there is China itself, which relentlessly focuses its full international policy on protecting its national interest, specifically that of its national industries.

I briefly explained how the opendeur politiek in olden days is mirrored by the policy model currently embraced by our Government – all too familiar as it resembles the one used by the Dutch kompeni of another era. The decision to issue this “16th Economic Policy Package” is actually a rerun, a copy-and-paste of the kompeni’s old policies. The only difference is the name: during the colonial era, this policy was called the opendeur politiek, the “open-door policy for all foreign capital”. In this era of modern colonization, this policy is termed the “Investment Negative List” (Daftar Negatif Investasi – “DNI”). In other words, this list details the types of business where 100% foreign ownership is allowed or disallowed.

Just imagine how the current aggressive construction of infrastructure is meant to smooth the inflow of foreign investments as it was in the old days. Imagine too, if we allow 100% foreign capital control of business fields that are the livelihood of UKMs and cooperatives. Let us remember what the word “koeli” means. In English, it is spelled “coolie”. This is a Mandarin Chinese term meaning “lowlife worker”, someone not much better than a slave. Someone who works rough, unskilled jobs for very little pay. That is what our people are going to face with the issuance of this “Package”, as they will be at the mercy of foreign capitalists who own 100% of the businesses they invest in, right here in Indonesia.

Modern “coolienization”, especially during the digital era, is a real concern that might just come true. Therefore, this modern opendeur politiek, framed as the “16th Economic Policy Package” must be rejected. Otherwise, what Bung Karno was worried about back in 1963 about “coolienization” will really come to pass with our people.

Let us heed Bung Karno’s warning: “And history shall write that there, between the continents of Asia and Australia, between the Pacific Ocean and the Indonesian Ocean, lived a nation that initially tried to live as a free nation again, but finally fell back into being a nation of coolies and the coolie of other nations (een natie van koelies, en een kolie onder de naties) ….”