The Chinese embassy in Jakarta has balked at Indonesian media reports that accused China of using a “biological weapon” after four Chinese nationals were arrested for planting imported chili seeds infected with a dangerous bacteria in Indonesian soil.
News of the arrests have sparked the latest wave of anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia where “Chinese” are begrudged as both an affluent ethnic minority as well as a rival neighboring power frequently involved in regional disputes.
The contaminated chili seeds were found planted on a farm located 60 kilometers south of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. According to the country’s quarantine body, it was the first time that bacteria erwinia chrysanthemi was ever detected in Indonesia. The bacteria poses no threat to humans, but may cause failure in crops.
The seeds have since been burned, and the crops destroyed.
Indonesian social media has been buzzing about the arrests with some users openly speculating that a Chinese conspiracy to undermine the country is afoot.
“Haven’t people realized that Chinese attacks on this country are real in many ways. From drugs, illegal workers, now chili bacteria”, said Twitter user @BoengParno.
The Chinese embassy denied China was in any way involved in using “biological weapons to destroy the economy of Indonesia” and described such accusations as “very worrying.”
“We hope that the bilateral relations and friendship between the people of China and Indonesia will not be affected by this matter,” it said in a statement.
Anti-Chinese sentiment including unpatriotic stereotypes have persisted in Indonesia. President Joko Widodo’s 2014 election campaign was adversely affected by accusations of Chinese ancestry, while ethnic Chinese made up a larger than average proportion of victims in the wake of violence following the 1998 fall of President Suharto.
Whether or not Indonesian social media users are correct in their assumptions about China’s motivations, it is true that the humble chili pepper has already been weaponized.
The Indian military has used the bhut jolokia chili pepper, once considered to be the “world’s hottest chili”, as a non-lethal biological weapon to control crowds and riots since 2010.
But, China may already be forming its own deterrent to this chili “arms race”. Last year, a Zhengzhou man made headlines when it was reported he ate 2.5 kilograms of chili peppers a day, while a Chinese chili-eating contest found a winner capable of eating 47 chilies in under two minutes.
By Charles Liu
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