China alarmed at chilli 'conspiracy' in Indonesia
JAKARTA China's embassy in Indonesia has expressed alarm at media reports accusing it of using a "biological weapon" against Indonesia, after four Chinese nationals were arrested for planting imported chilli seeds contaminated with a bacteria.
The headlines splashed across Indonesian media have sparked a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment on social media in a country with a history of simmering resentment towards its giant neighbour.
Indonesian authorities said the imported chilli seeds confiscated on a farm about 60km south of the capital, Jakarta, contained the bacteria erwinia chrysanthemi, which is harmless to humans but can cause failure in crops.
It was the first time the bacteria had been detected in Indonesia, the state-owned news agency Antara quoted the head of the country's quarantine body as saying.
Indonesians are among the most avid users of social media in the world, and conspiracy theories about the intentions of the four Chinese nationals running the farm quickly spread.
"Haven't people realised that Chinese attacks on this country are real in many ways. From drugs, illegal workers, now chilli bacteria", said a twitter user with the handle #BoengParno.
Authorities burned the chilli seeds and destroyed the crop sowed by the Chinese men and 30 Indonesian workers on a leased plot of land near the city of Bogor.
The Chinese embassy in a statement said accusations of a plot to use "biological weapons to destroy the economy of Indonesia" carried no basis in facts and were "very worrying".
"We hope that the bilateral relations and friendship between the people of China and Indonesia will not be affected by this matter."
Indonesia's maritime affairs minister Luhut Panjaitan criticised some of the outbursts on social media.
"Whether it's true or not, some people over react," he said.
"'Oh, the Chinese invade Indonesia'. Come on. This is the problem with social media ... Without checking, they just spread the rumours." - REUTERS