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When Emperor Alimin passed away in June 2078 at the age of eighty-two, I was serving as Deputy to the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in Nusaraya, the Nusantaran Empire's new capital for two decades. At the time I was in the former capital Jakarta, having been asked to represent the erstwhile Ambassador Mr. Khoo Siau Cheng at a function in the Nusantaran Trade and Investment Office, and thus news of the event did not reach me until I returned to Nusaraya the next day. I had met and shaken hands with the Emperor twice, first during a diplomatic reception in the late 2050s and second during an audience I had the privilege of attending in 2064, back when I was a young diplomatic attaché stationed in Jakarta. He had seemed like the quiet and scholarly type, though there was also an unmistakable military air to him, and he had a very strong handshake to prove it.

At the time of his death, my view of Alimin was, in all respects, similar to that of most Chinese Singaporeans like myself. For many of the older generation, Nusantara – formerly known as Indonesia – was a country plagued by political conflicts and internal unrest, ruled by a military dictatorship unfriendly to ethnic Chinese. With Nusantara having had episodes of violence against Huaqiao (ethnic Chinese) in its history, Alimin's rise to power was considered an unexpected surprise by most of us, who had been raised with the idea of Singapore as a safe bastion for Huaqiao sandwiched between two larger Austronesian polities Malaysia and Nusantara. As far as we were concerned, having him in power would herald positive changes to diplomatic relations. That there was an increase in trade and the finalisation of the Natuna Gas Deal in the 2050s had lent merit to the idea. The fact Nusantara enjoyed an extended period of political and economic stability under his rule also proved his worth as a statesman. On a personal level, there was a certain amount of pride in my own family regarding the man, to see one of our own rise to power in what was considered a hostile land at the time. After all, Alimin was born to the Li (李) clan with the birth name Zhengyong (正勇), and with whom I shared the same clan surname.

In the eighth year of Alimin's reign I had the chance to travel to Nusantara, where I received my first posting as a junior attaché to the Embassy of Singapore in Jakarta. Then Jakarta had just finished negotiating terms to end hostilities in the Yemen, in which its forces were engaged in defending the country's southern half against Saudi encroachment. Though Nusantara had long been a militarised society at the time, I was amazed that the effects of the war did not seem to be apparent to its citizens. Back then, I had thought that having gone through multiple political crises and periods of instability would have given Nusantaran citizens a certain degree of resilience to upheavals. That may be true in some aspects, but various economic data from the last twenty-five years during my visit strongly indicated that the Nusantaran economy had been engineered to be resilient to the effects of prolonged conflict. It was that which piqued my interest in studying the country's socio-political history more deeply, and that was when my interest of writing this biography began. Though coloured by rosy perceptions of my people's view of Alimin, I endeavoured to get to the real man behind the image, to understand just how this enigmatic Nanyang Huayi (ethnic Chinese Nusantaran) managed to rise to power and win the hearts and minds of his people.

My first opportunity would come at a dinner with Alimin's son Bodhi Liswanto (Li Gongren/李功仁), who was then serving as senior aide to Finance Minister Dr. Athallah Thoriq. Like his father whom I would meet later on, Bodhi struck me as the austere scholar, to whom idle conversation seemed more like a bane than a necessity. However we managed to establish good rapport that night, and from there I was given a glimpse of just what kind of man Alimin was in the eyes of his son. From Bodhi's own recollection I was given the impression of him as a strict but affectionate father, whose sense of duty as a soldier came before his own family. There I also learnt about the man's own spiritual background, being raised with Confucian and Buddhist values before converting to the Islamic faith in his later years, while somehow always managing to honour and put into practice the teachings he received in his youth in the context of his new faith. It was here I began to develop a more nuanced view of Alimin as a person, and the idea of using his biography as a narrative vehicle to explore Nusantara's gradual evolution from the sick man of Asia into the second greatest power in the Asia-Pacific after China.

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