Make Friends with China!
    Category: Column By : Hermawan Kartajaya Read : 859 Date : Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 04:57:35

    “Whether you like China or not, you better make friends with China!”

    I heard it from an American professor at the 16th World Knowledge Forum in Seoul last year. During his presentation, he stressed the importance of China to the world economy. I was instantly reminded of this when the Tourism Minister Arief Yahya declared China as the top country of origin for Indonesia tourism during the National Coordination Meeting 2016. More than 120 million Chinese were outbound tourists last year and only less than 1 million came to Indonesia, and most of those only to Bali.

    Reports indicate that “Indonesia anti-Chinese incidents” topped search engine results when Chinese search about Indonesia. Many Chinese tourists also worried that they could not eat pork outside of Bali. These misconceptions hindered the flow of Chinese tourists to Indonesia. On the other hand, many tourism players are unaccustomed to the behavior of Chinese tourists. Some say Chinese tourists overeat at buffets only to throw up later in the toilet. Others say they are less polite when compared to tourists from elsewhere.

    To build bridges, Minister Arief reminded everyone that the key is to understand different tourist segments. A former telco executive, Arief drew an analogy of prepaid and post-paid customers. A telco does not alienate prepaid customers but has different strategies for them.

    The tourism sector is one example. The dependency toward China is growing in other sectors as well. The China’s slower growth has hit the Indonesia economy. When China reduced purchase of commodity, Indonesian exports declined. Investment from China to Indonesia is also growing. Many Chinese workers are entering Indonesia and being accused of taking away jobs from locals. Indonesia and China need to make the relationship work. There has to be a repositioning effort from both countries.

    1. Firstly, Indonesia needs to stress it is a “Pancasila” nation, not a country of only one religion. On the other hand, China needs to reposition itself as the new superpower with world-class citizens.

    2. Secondly, Indonesia needs to be friends with everyone, including China, on the basis of equality. China, conversely, needs to better embrace its Southeast Asian neighbors.

    3. Thirdly, many Chinese Indonesians would testify that Indonesia today is no longer Indonesia of 1998. Merry Riana, who fled Indonesia in the 1998 riots, has now become an inspiring figure. Jakarta Governor Ahok is another example.

    To most Chinese Indonesians, 1998 is in the past and no longer relevant. Every time I am asked on Chinese TV about it, I always say 1998 was an anomaly that doesn’t reflect true Indonesia. But since the question often arises, I believe that it still haunts many Chinese tourists and Chinese workers in Indonesia.

    Bali has become a great place for Chinese tourists to feel welcome. Manado, for example, could become an alternative gateway. In talking with North Sulawesi Governor Olly Dondokambey, he assures me that he is ready to make it happen. North Sulawesi is on the Pacific and is geographically close to China. It is also friendly to foreigners. And there are already many Chinese tourists coming to Manado. Prophet Muhammad once said, “Seek knowledge, even unto China.” So it is natural for Indonesia to make friends with China.