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Relations with China

If there is anything we can say about the Sino-Indonesian relationship, it is probably the fact that politics have always come second to sociocultural and economic ties. Indeed, from an anthropological point of view, Indonesians could well trace their ancestral origins to the people who once populated the southern part of China, and - like the Japanese and Koreans - have strong influences of Chinese culture that for centuries has been the region's de-facto hegemon.

Interest in Mandarin
Interest in Mandarin grows along with Chinese economy

Mandarin language courses are mushrooming across Greater Jakarta as Indonesian businesspeople, impressed by China's rapid economic growth, rush to establish contacts with Chinese businesses. The Wen Hua Mandarin Institute and the Han Lin Mandarin Course told The Jakarta Post that many of their students were studying the language in order to establish ties with Chinese businesspeople in China and around the world.

"Most of our students who are executives at Jakarta-based companies say they want to study Mandarin to broaden their business contacts with Chinese people," said Wen Hua's program coordinator Tanny Chenying. Tanny, a Chinese citizen who started the course in 2003, believes the students' interest reflects how Indonesians have come to understand the importance of mastering Mandarin, the official language of the People's Republic of China.

She said Mandarin had become a second international language because it was being used by Chinese people around the world. "Based on the size of China's population, at least 1.3 billion people speak Mandarin, while the number of people who speak the language outside of China could be double that number," she said.

Tanny said that aside from attracting Indonesian businesspeople, the course was also popular with expatriates working in Indonesia. "We have Australian, French, Korean and American students attending our evening classes. All of them say they are motivated by economic reasons," she said.

She gave an example of a Korean student, an executive at Samsung Indonesia, who was studying Mandarin so he could ask his company to transfer him to its branch in China. "He said he wanted to experience working there," Tanny said.

Iwan Lee, the president director of the Han Lin Mandarin course in Bogor, said that aside from business interests, learning Mandarin could also help businesspeople better understand the widely varied Chinese culture. "To understand a culture, you must first master the language. To understand Chinese culture, you have to be able to read and communicate with Chinese people to see how they think and act," said Iwan, whose course is also attended by traders of Indian and Arab descent.

Last revised on January 19, 2010
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