Academic Leo Suryadinata has become the first Singaporean to receive an award from the Indonesian government that honours cultural contributions and efforts to deepen understanding of the archipelago.
The Ministry of Education and Culture lauded his work on Indonesia's Chinese community, declaring Dr Leo, who was born in Jakarta, instrumental in introducing the history and development of the country's ethnic Chinese.
"In this field, no other scholar has as strong an interest as Leo Suryadinata," it said of the veteran Indonesia expert, who is a visiting senior fellow at the Iseas - Yusof Ishak Institute, as well as an adjunct professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University.
The award was for his "dedication and service as an expert on the ethnic Chinese in the dynamics of Indonesian social, economic, political and cultural life", said the ministry.
Dr Leo, who has contributed pieces to The Straits Times' opinion section on a wide range of issues, including US-Indonesia relations and China's rail ambitions in Indonesia, received the Award for Culture and Recognition of Traditional Arts Maestro at a ceremony in Jakarta on Sept 26.
"I felt honoured as this is not only a recognition of my work, but it is also a recognition of the importance of the Chinese Indonesians, as well as the study of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia," he told The Straits Times yesterday.
"I hope people in Indonesia and beyond would be able to better understand the roles and contributions of the Chinese Indonesians to Indonesia."
And he also hoped to see more Indonesians - regardless of ethnicity - conducting more studies on this minority group, he added.
"I would encourage younger Indonesian academics to do it as there are not many fine scholars yet in this field," he said. "I hope they will follow the steps of the older generation of scholars and surpass them."
Dr Leo graduated in 1962 with a bachelor's degree from the then Nanyang University, where he majored in Chinese and South-east Asian literature. He has worked in several Singapore institutions over the past few decades and written more than 50 books on issues such as the Chinese Indonesian community as well as Indonesian politics.
The Indonesian award has been recognising three foreign individuals a year since 2015 for significant contributions to studies about the country.
Iseas - Yusof Ishak Institute deputy director Terence Chong said Dr Leo's contributions to the study of the Chinese community in Indonesia is invaluable to the think-tank's work.
Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, co-coordinator of the institute's Indonesia programme, said the veteran academic has, through his writing, teaching and mentoring, helped many young scholars understand issues such as nation-building and the implications of China's rise.
Dr Leo, 77, is not stopping yet.
"At my age, I am eager to pass my knowledge to the younger generation. I will be very happy if young scholars would like to learn with me," he said.