Indonesia And iQIYI: China’s Effort To Adjust Its Image – OpEd

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For Indonesia, China is a prominent trading partner. However, their relations have been colored by a negative perception, especially among Indonesian people toward the Chinese. Some surveys found that Indonesian perception of the Chinese had declined in 2020 by 66% from 76.7% in 2015. Many Indonesians also are worried about China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI) project. In order to create a welfare society, they perceive that BRI will create a debt trap diplomacy for Indonesia, such as happened in Sri Lanka, Laos, and some African countries. 

Amid COVID-19, the growth of Anti-Sentiment China in Indonesia still exists. There are a couple of reasons, for instance, the communist history in Indonesia and the Muslim Uyghur in Xinjiang that get the harsh treatment. 

In the last of 2020, there was a mass demonstration at the Embassy of China, Jakarta, to prosecute the Beijing government for changing the human right of  Muslim Uighurs. Besides, the rally also demanded the Indonesian government to take policy. The Researcher of Amnesty International of Indonesia, Papang Hidayat, said, “Whereas for us it was arbitrarily removed and some were detained through the process of elimination which we condemn, detention without access to the outside world and communicate with the family cut off.”

Following that action, Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko stated Indonesia would not meddle in the Uyghur issue as China’s internal affairs. 

In the mid-1960s, hundreds of thousands of suspected communists – some of the Chinese descent –were killed after the Indonesian military had alleged to the Indonesian government of the coup. Ethnic Chinese were also the primary victims of the 1998 riots, where almost 100 women were raped and 1,000 people murdered. The Chinese also alleged the decrease in Indonesian business made them vulnerable. 

This fact led the Chinese government to make some efforts to repair its image in Indonesia. For instance, iQIYI, a streaming platform that contains some Chinese cultures. 

iQIYI’s Programs 

The growth of China in Indonesia was followed by a Chinese online video platform named iQIYI. By Sep. 2020, the Chinese government said iQIYI already existed in Indonesia. This platform provided eleven genres: romance, colossal, show, mystery, etc. 

Steven Zhang, County Manager of iQIYI in Indonesia, stated, “We hope the IQIYI’s programs would give entertainment and happiness for all people during this pandemic COVID-19 period.” In 2021, data by AppAnnie showed that iQYi users reached 10 million in Indonesia, making iQiyi one of the most downloaded streaming platforms. 

Some films or series of iQIYI produce about the zenith era of China. One of them is ‘The First Myth: Clash of Gods,’ which Yu Fei, Zhang Zhilu, Li Qinyao, etc., played. That film attempts to show the viewers about the Yin Shang Dynasty and other Chinese cultures like the God of Heaven and the Ten Thousand Immortals Formation. In addition, two years ago, iQIYI released ‘Break Through the Darkness,’ which told about the anti-crime and corruption in Chinese society.  

Joseph Nye, an International Relations scholar focusing on soft power and public diplomacy, argues that some institutions will significantly improve their image through culture. It will persuade people to believe or put a billion trust in its culture. 

Do more

To decrease the growth of anti-sentiment China, Beijing must make policies significantly. 

First, Beijing must push iQIYI continuously and carefully. The authoritarian regime must know the void. For example, iQIYI should know about the competitor, Disney Hotstar, that in early 2021, they relied on Telkomsel as their partner. Based on Media Partners Asia reported that Disney Hotstar got 2.5 paid subscribers compared to Netflix. 

Second, the Chinese government just does what the Japanese government does in Indonesia through its films. Since Japan colonized Indonesia in 3.5 years, anti-Japanese sentiment has emerged. In fact, in the Malari Incident in 1974, there was a protest, most of them were students, that the Indonesian government should not receive the massive investment from Japan. 

Therefore, Japan used Pop Culture Diplomacy in the form of anime. In 2006, there were 77,236 hours of anime viewing and gross revenue of 47.8 billion yen. During the two decades, there have been no significant protests by the Indonesians against the Japanese government. In fact, according to the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), Japan is the 5th largest investor in Indonesia. 

Gufron Gozali, an Alumni Universitas Islam Indonesia, contributed to this article

M Habib Pashya

M Habib Pashya is a Master's student at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). His research focuses on China's foreign policy, Indonesia's foreign policy, and US-Taiwan-China relations.

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