|Transportation is the tie that binds nations, including China and Indonesia|
Electric multiple units conduct hot testing on the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway trial section in Bandung, Indonesia, on November 9 (XINHUA)
The official website of the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia, Wonderful Indonesia, lists the Cheng Ho (Zheng He) Cultural Festival in Semarang, Central Java Province, as a must-see. The site goes on to describe the festival as "reviving the memory of the historic voyages of Admiral Cheng Ho from China into [modern-day] Indonesian waters."
As the most famous navigator in Chinese history, Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is also considered a great diplomat because his fleet's seven voyages not only brought porcelain, tea and silk but also friendship to Southeast Asia, including the islands we today refer to as Indonesia.
Never could Zheng have imagined that more than 600 years after he first set sail would the bond of friendship between China and Indonesia be stronger than ever thanks to modern means of transportation: the high-speed railway (HSR).
Built with Chinese technology, the first HSR in Indonesia will connect the national capital of Jakarta with Bandung, capital of West Java Province and the fourth most populous city in Indonesia, with a design speed of 350 km per hour, cutting the 142-km journey from three-plus hours to roughly 40 minutes.
Considered a landmark project to promote the synergy between the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to enhance international connectivity, and Indonesia's Global Maritime Fulcrum, a strategy designed to strengthen the country's maritime infrastructure and security apparatus to better propel its economic and political rise, the railway received the attention of both countries' top leaders.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Beijing on July 26 that "the two sides need to intensify high-quality Belt and Road cooperation for more fruitful outcomes and must strive to complete the Jakarta-Bandung HSR on schedule and to high standards."
As the first foreign head of state to visit China since the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics in February, Widodo's trip, according to Xi, spoke volumes about the strong commitment to growing the bilateral relationship.
During his conversation with Xi, Widodo mentioned how the HSR is a symbol of Indonesia's rapid development. He added the country is ready to work with China to ensure that the railway is completed and goes into operation on schedule, becoming yet another milestone in the bilateral friendship.
The friendship between the two heads of state stayed on track as President Xi attended the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in Bali, Indonesia, from November 15 to 16 at Widodo's invitation.
"The G20 Bali Summit is the first multilateral summit President Xi has attended after the 20th Communist Party of China National Congress," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing.
Supporting the work of the Indonesian G20 presidency, China hopes all parties will focus on the summit's theme of Recover Together, Recover Stronger—promoting strong and inclusive economic recovery among G20 members, build consensus and boost cooperation in the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Zhao added.
In October 2013, Xi chose Indonesia to be the first stop on his then tour of Southeast Asia and gave a speech to the Indonesian Parliament. He described his journey as one "carrying forward traditional friendship and mapping out future cooperation." During that same visit, the leaders of both countries jointly announced the bilateral relationship would receive an upgrade to a comprehensive strategic partnership to further build on past achievements and generate all-round and in-depth growth.
Flow to grow
In his aforementioned address to parliament, President Xi also mentioned an Indonesian folk song called Bengawan Solo, which is very famous in China as well. Its lyrics go as follows: Your water springs forth from Solo, caged by a thousand mountains. Water flows to reach far distances, eventually to the sea. "Like the beautiful river Solo, China-Indonesia relations have traversed an extraordinary journey, past the mountains and eventually to the sea," Xi said.
Friendship flows as cooperation flourishes. In 2021, a collaborative initiative between China and Indonesia called Two Countries, Twin Parks got underway. The project intends to build business parks in the two countries, which will then share interconnected industries, interoperable facilities and reciprocal policies.
Chinese enterprises bring their capital, technology and management experience to Indonesia and also help upgrade local industries and train local technicians, a concerted combination empowering Indonesia's industrialization and modernization process.
According to a survey conducted by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, 91.4 percent of China-invested enterprises have trained local employees through "apprenticeships," 50 percent of enterprises have sent Indonesian employees to China for training, and 37.1 percent of enterprises have carried out school-enterprise cooperation programs.
Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Lu Kang shared a story of his visit to the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) at the launch of the Corporation Social Responsibility Report on China-invested Enterprises in Indonesia on October 28.
"I happened to meet a young Indonesian woman called Fitriani who, though a bit shy, was already an experienced engineer; like many young Indonesians, she was passionate and daring. Her department is responsible for the improvement of ferronickel product quality which requires high skills. Fresh out of college, she became the first Indonesian employee of the department. With the careful guidance and help from her Chinese colleagues, she mastered the skills in only four months and then took the initiative to translate all the operation instructions into Indonesian and implement the switch between Chinese and Indonesian of the operation interface, which facilitated the passing on of technology between Chinese and Indonesian employees. The following year, seven more Indonesian employees joined the department and Fitriani gave the freshmen her step-by-step instructions," Lu said.
The IMIP is a modern industrial park with a focus on the nickel-based industry located in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi Province. This is a key Belt and Road project in Indonesia. According to the park's director, every Chinese employee holding an important technical position is responsible for imparting their skills to five to 10 Indonesian employees.
China has also put its know-how to good use in the Jakarta-Bandung HSR. The project is the first high-speed rail project overseas to fully use Chinese technology, standards and equipment. The 11 sets of bullet passenger trains and one set of comprehensive inspection trains tailormade for the railway were manufactured in China. One set of passenger trains and the inspection trains arrived in Indonesia's Jakarta Port on September 1.
A group of young Indonesians produced and posted a video online to introduce how the Jakarta-Bandung HSR could change people's lives. At the end of the video, the narration represents the local voice: "It's not only fast but also sustainable for the environment, as it is powered by electricity. We hope that the cooperation between Indonesia and China doesn't stop here and can continue to extend to other cities so everyone can commute faster and more efficiently."
Hundreds of years after Zheng, the 15th-century Chinese navigator, first entered Indonesian waters, the story of China-Indonesia friendship remains one of smooth sailing.
(Print Edition Title: Sails to Rails)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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