The Chinese are coming, and more Indonesian students are preparing for their arrival by studying Mandarin, both in Indonesia and in China.
Experts agree that the number of Indonesians studying Mandarin had begun to rise before the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement took effect on Jan. 1. And they expect the number to accelerate in the coming years as trade between the two countries increases, and as the booming Chinese economy becomes a stronger force in global trade.
Two Indonesian universities that offer majors in Chinese literature, Bina Nusantara University (BINUS) and the University of Indonesia, are seeing accelerating enrollment in their programs.
Agustinus Sufianto, a lecturer in Chinese literature at BINUS, said the university is expecting an increase of 15 percent to 20 percent in the number of students enrolled in the program this year, after an increase of 10 percent last year. He added that the program had begun recruiting Chinese lecturers.
“There are currently more than 400 students enrolled in the Chinese literature program,” Agustinus said.
UI has about half as many students enrolled in its Chinese program, but is seeing faster growth — 30 percent in 2009 and an expected 40 percent surge in 2010, according to Madona Sulanti, program coordinator.
More significant, perhaps, is that more than half of the students in UI’s program, which has been traditionally dominated by Chinese-Indonesians, are indigenous Indonesians, or pribumi , Madona said.
Count Stefan, a senior at Santa Theresia High School in Jakarta, is among those young Indonesians looking to take advantage of China’s ascendancy by studying its official language when he enrolls at university next year.
“I’ve decided to change my college major to Chinese literature from communication. I think there will be more opportunities for me as a result of the FTA with China and fewer students choose this major compared to more common majors like business,” Stefan said.
Meanwhile, the number of Indonesian students studying in Chinese universities surged by 42 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to Xie Yi of the Chinese Embassy’s cultural section in Jakarta.
As China and Indonesia increase business and diplomatic ties, an increase in the number of proficient Mandarin speakers will go a long way toward ensuring those ties are strong ones, said Djimanto, secretary general of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo).
“The ability to conduct solid communication translates into a solid business relationship as well,” Djimanto said.
Dendy Sugono, the head of the Language Center at the Ministry of National Education, said proficiency in Mandarin among Indonesian businesspeople will be greatly appreciated by the Chinese.
“I’ve heard complaints from Chinese businessmen regarding their dissatisfaction in using translators while making business deals with Indonesians because it takes away the essential ‘party-to-party’ feeling,” Dendy explained.
Rizaldi Parani, a sociology lecturer at Pelita Harapan University, said China sees Indonesia not just as a market but as a place for long-term investment.
“The way I see it, an investing process would require a longer communication process, so I think it’s more important for Indonesians to learn to speak Chinese than people from other Asean countries,” Rizaldi said.