By Zhao Jun, Wang Jiping
China-ASEAN relations have achieved a new stage of development in the past year as both sides are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their dialogue relations. Currently, China conducts close cooperation in a variety of fields with ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy. Recently, China Report ASEAN sat down for an exclusive interview with Mr. Soegeng Rahardjo, the Indonesian Ambassador to China, to learn more about the development of the bilateral relationship that exists between the world’s first and fourth most populated countries.
China Report ASEAN: Looking back on the past 25 years, how would you evaluate the development of the relationship between China and Indonesia?
Mr. Soegeng Rahardjo: The Indonesia-China ties have been growing steadily over many years. In 2005, Indonesia and China formed a strategic partnership, and when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Indonesia in 2013, it was updated to a comprehensive one. Actually, during the past 25 years, the two countries have carried out cooperation in many fields, particularly in the economy. Moreover, within the past two years, I have organized three meetings for Indonesian President Joko Widodo with Xi. Such frequent high-level visits show that Indonesia and China have already built a close relationship and I hope we can deepen it with further dialogue.
China Report ASEAN: What efforts do you think should be taken to promote the bilateral relationship between China and Indonesia?
Mr. Soegeng Rahardjo: Indonesia and China are now promoting their relationship by three approaches of dialogue, including high-level political and strategic dialogue, high-level economic dialogue and people-to-people dialogue.
According to my understanding, in the future, I think we can promote the relationship further or discuss things within three mechanisms including political security mechanisms, economic mechanisms and people-to people communication.
For example, in terms of political security mechanisms, we have already discussed lots of things to safeguard the peace of the region, which is very important. In economic areas, I think Indonesia and China could conduct more economic activities to upgrade investment and trade. Of course, the people-to-people dialogue is also of great importance, because we can use it to promote closer communication among younger generations of citizens. Young people in Indonesia have learned lots of things from the West, but their knowledge about neighboring countries is quite limited. If you observe carefully, you will discover that the Asia-Pacific area is the world’s most important region in the 21st century, which means that the younger generation in our country bears more responsibility to promote the relationship between Indonesia and China and also between other countries within the region. In order to fulfill their responsibilities, they should know more about the region by vivid and direct people-to-people communication. In a word, by deeper mutual understanding, younger generations will contribute more to a closer Indonesia-China relationship.
Therefore, in my opinion, Indonesia and China are very complementary to each other in at least four fields, including infrastructure, connectivity, energy and the development of special economic zones.
China Report ASEAN: What’s your opinion on the Belt and Road Initiative?
Mr. Soegeng Rahardjo: I highly appreciate the Initiative, under which Indonesia and China can carry out much cooperation.
Indonesia is composed of over 17,000 islands and is located in an area between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. These geographic features provide broad room for Indonesia and China to conduct maritime cooperation. I think that just partly based on this fact, when Xi visited Indonesia in October 2013, he introduced the concept of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which means Indonesia has an important part to play in this initiative. Meanwhile, since Indonesia is endowed with prosperous maritime resources, Mr. Joko Widodo also sees Indonesia’s role as a “global maritime axis”. This means there is huge potential for us to do something together.
Therefore, in my opinion, Indonesia and China are very complementary to each other in at least four fields, including infrastructure, connectivity, energy and the development of special economic zones. I am glad to see that cooperation in the first two areas is already well under way.
For example, in October 2015, it was officially announced that China Railway International Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of China Railway Group Ltd, together with a consortium consisting of Indonesian state-owned enterprises, would build Indonesia’s first ever high-speed railway between the capital city of Jakarta and Bandung (in West Java). In addition, as China has many energy production facilities, we could further cooperate in terms of energy.
China Report ASEAN: What are your plans for the rest of 2016 to enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples?
Mr. Soegeng Rahardjo: During the first half of this year, I focused on bilateral economic cooperation, while in the second half, I will focus more on education for young people in both Indonesia and China. I will visit some Chinese universities including Xiamen University and Wuhan University to find more education opportunities for Indonesian students and educate Chinese students about Indonesia. I have learned that the number of Indonesian students studying in China has increased drastically in recent years, and now totals around 15,000.
China Report ASEAN: Today’s world is more open than ever before. Chinese citizens have more access to information than at any time in history. What is the most important thing for Chinese citizens to know about in regards to your country?
Mr. Soegeng Rahardjo: I would recommend our islands. Differing from other ASEAN countries, we have over 17,000 islands but only about 6,000 of them are inhabited. Moreover, Indonesia is a maritime nation. We can provide beautiful views of the sea to the Chinese people and also people from other parts of the world.