A view of Jawa 7 Coal-Fired Power Plant in Kota Serang, Indonesia. Photo: Courtesy of China Energy Engineering Group Zhejiang Thermal Power Construction Co Ltd
Seated opposite us in a conference room, Tulus Martini, a young Indonesian mother, was answering our questions in fluent Chinese. A blue sign was hanging on the wall. It read “Jawa 7 Coal-Fired Power Plant.”
In 2017, China Energy Engineering Group Zhejiang Thermal Power Construction Co Ltd started building this power plant in Kota Serang in the northwest region of Java, Indonesia. The plant is a key project of Indonesia’s medium-term plan to add 35 million kilowatts of generation capacity, as well as China’s first overseas mega-kilowatt class thermal power project.
Among the over 2,000 local employees, very few can speak Putonghua (standard Chinese) like Martini. Thanks to her language skills, Martini was assigned to the company’s human resources department and made responsible for external public relations.
Martini has been working in this Chinese company for more than two years. Her monthly salary is about 5,000 yuan ($712), relatively high among the local working class. Martini comes from Kabupaten Cilacap, a regency – second level administrative division of Indonesia – more than 500 kilometers away. She left her sixth-grader son home with his grandparents.
Asked about her plan for work and life, she told us about her three goals with a smile. First, send her son to a middle school near the power plant she works, and teach him Chinese. Second, buy a house in Kota Serang. Third, save money for the child’s education. “If possible, I want to send him to study in China,” she said.
All Chinese reporters laughed after hearing Martini’s plans. Her ambitions are very similar to those of tens of thousands of ordinary Chinese, including her Chinese colleagues.
We asked the same questions to Zeng Xiuping, a young Chinese mother. Leaving her hometown and her loved ones behind, Zeng came to Indonesia and worked at the company’s general affairs department. She left her child, who will soon attend primary school, with her parents in her hometown Quzhou in East China’s Zhejiang Province. But unlike Martini, Zeng owns a house. “It’s a house close to a school, so my kid will have easy access to school and education,” she said with a smile just like Martini’s.
In China Energy Engineering Group, there are more than 40,000 Chinese employees like Zeng who work overseas. They are working diligently on more than 200 projects in over 140 countries and regions worldwide.
When participating in Indonesia’s infrastructure construction, Chinese enterprises not only bring advanced technology and equipment, but also provide more opportunities to improve local people’s livelihood. Indonesian youth like Martini could have new jobs and opportunities to improve personal skills. This has laid the foundation for a stable income in the future.
Among the 10 ASEAN members, Indonesia’s total GDP is the highest. By the end of 2018, Indonesia’s nominal GDP was again above $1 trillion. However, its GDP per capita was just around $3,800. Going by other Asian economies’ development experience, the growth of populous countries like Indonesia depends on the country’s industrialization process, and power plants are one of the most important steps in industrial infrastructure.
According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the country’s electricity consumption increased from 1,012 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per capita in 2017 to 1,064 kWh per capita in 2018. Such consumption is in the intermediate range among the 10 ASEAN members. Indonesia’s current power supply system falls far short of meeting the demand for its development. New power plants built by Chinese enterprises will bring more electricity that local people urgently need.
Gu Juhong, project manager of Jawa 7 Coal-Fired Power Plant, told us, “There are two units in the entire power station, and 15 billion kWh is generated every year. According to Chinese standards, at least 4 million Indonesian people’s demand can be met.”
When we left the construction site, workers were off duty. They left the site in twos and threes, chatting and laughing. Some waved a greeting to us, “Apa kabar? (How are you?)”
The flaming sunset dyed the flying clouds red, and shone its golden light on the imposing power station. This reminded me of the slogan at the construction site: “We are all dream chasers!”
The author is a senior editor with People’s Daily, and a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina