When President Joko Widodo in February extended his best wishes to Indonesia’s Chinese community for Lunar New Year, he referred to them as “Tionghoa”. The word is now used in the Southeast Asian nation to describe its Chinese ethnic minority group, yet it was only officially adopted in 2014 – and it needed a presidential decree, amid considerable controversy.

It is not often that a language becomes the reason for a public debate. Yet this is what happened in Indonesia that year, following a…


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