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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.

Not only business
There is more to China than business

Two Sinologists here said more people should study China for academic reasons, rather than just for business. Ignatius Wibowo and Abdullah Dahana, both of whom hold doctorates in Chinese studies, told The Jakarta Post the small number of Indonesians with expertise in the field should be increased by motivating young scholars to study China for academic reasons.

"People who want to study China should remember that because China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, there are more aspects to it besides its economy. They should study it not only for practical reasons, such as to be a consultant for companies, but more importantly for academic reasons," Wibowo said recently at his house in Kramat, Central Jakarta. Wibowo said the growing number of people studying Mandarin did not reflect a growing interest in the general study of China, but rather the growing need to be able to communicate with Chinese businesspeople.

He said if people focused only on the Chinese economy, the view of Indonesian scholars would become too narrow. He added that scholars should also know about the history, politics and culture of the country. "If the main purpose is only to establish business relations with Chinese businesspeople, they can use investment consultation firms in Shanghai or Hong Kong. But then, you won't ever become familiar with the rich history of China," said Wibowo, who is an expert in Chinese politics.

Abdullah Dahana, a professor of Chinese literature at the University of Indonesia, said there were dozens of reasons why people should learn about Chinese history and literature. "This country has a long historical record of relations with China. The spread of Islam here was closely related to China's trade and political history. But yet, this country also banned people from studying Chinese culture for about 30 years. So we missed lots of information about China's development over three decades," said Dahana, who just authored a book titled China dan Malaysia dalam Arena Perang Dingin 1949-1974 (China and Malaysia during the Cold War, 1949-1974).

Dahana said Chinese studies existed in Indonesia during the Dutch colonial era with the establishment of the Office of China Affairs in the 19th century. But after Indonesia's independence, and especially after Soeharto became president, Chinese studies were neglected. To stimulate more people to study China for academic reasons, Wibowo and some of his colleagues set up the Center for Chinese Studies, a non-profit institution that focuses on research on China.

"The problem is that neither the government nor private companies want to sponsor such studies," Wibowo said, adding that the existence of the center was vital because the Chinese government itself had not set up a study center here.

Last revised on January 19, 2010
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