Tak­ing the high road

For­eign stu­dents in Shang­hai talk about the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Qi Xi­jia

2018 mark the 5th an­niver­sary of the Belt an Road ini­tia­tive (BRI). The fast five years saw an ex­plo­sion of for­eign stu­dents com­ing to China to study un­der this ini­tia­tive. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, by the end of 2017 the num­ber of for­eign stu­dents in China reached 500,000. Among them about 320,00 are from Belt and Road coutries, ac­count­ing for over 60 per­cent, mak­ing China the big­gest over­seas study­ing des­ti­na­tion in Asia, CRI On­line re­ported Mon­day. The big­gest source coun­tries of China’ for­eign stu­dents are South Korea fol­lowed by Thai­land and Pak­istan.

What has the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive brought to these for­eign stu­dents and their coun­tries? How does it overlap with their personal fu­ture? The Global Times re­cently spoke with some for­eign stu­dents in Shang­hai about the ini­tia­tive.

Porn­pawis Lhapeer­akul from Thai­land is study­ing for a PhD de­gree in China stud­ies at Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity. Durian trade be­tween Chi­nese e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba Group and the Thai government is cur­rently a pop­u­lar topic among him and fel­low friends in Shang­hai. On April 19, Alibaba and the Thai government signed a co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment to sell Thai rice and durian on Alibaba’s shop­ping site, Tmall. Within the first minute, over 80,000 or­ders were placed and over 200,000 kilo­grams of durian sold out, China En­tre­pre­neur re­ported re­cently.

“That was amaz­ing. The Belt and Road ini­tia­tive has brought much help to the ex­port of Thai fruit,” Lhapeer­akul told the Global Times. Thanks to the con­ve­nient on­line re­tail sec­tor, he is now able to en­joy durian from his home­town while in Shang­hai, which tastes equally “good and fresh” as it does back in Thai­land.

“It would be bet­ter, though, if durian was as cheap here as in Thai­land,” Lhapeer­akul said in flu­ent Chi­nese.

Like Lhapeer­akul, around one mil­lion Thai peo­ple are tak­ing up Chi­nese lan­guage cour­ses set up in 3,000 schools and univer­si­ties in Thai­land, mak­ing Pu­tonghua one of the most im­por­tant for­eign lan­guages in Thai­land, peo­ple.cn re­ported Wed­nes­day.

“The Thai government is en­cour­ag­ing more Thai stu­dents to speak Chi­nese so that they will be able to com­mu­ni­cate and do busi­ness with China in the fu­ture. Al­most ev­ery univer­sity now has Chi­nese-re­lated ma­jors, such as Chi­nese stud­ies, busi­ness Chi­nese and in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion,” Lhapeer­akul said.

He said that many Thai stu­dents seek an over­seas ed­u­ca­tion in China. He too was in­spired by his class­mates to study in China. He is now do­ing re­search on the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive and how Thai­land will de­velop un­der this ini­tia­tive.

“Thai­land is very in­ter­ested in the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive. There has been many dis­cus­sions about it from the Thai government, pri­vate en­ter­prises and or­di­nary Thai peo­ple,” he said, adding that af­ter grad­u­at­ing he hopes to be a Chi­nese teacher in Thai­land.

More than a road

Muham­mad Umar Zahid is a Pak­istani stu­dent ma­jor­ing in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and jour­nal­ism. He is now study­ing Chi­nese at Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity on a schol­ar­ship of­fered by the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute.

In his view, the Belt and Road ini­tia-

tive is a “game-chang­ing pro­ject” in a glob­al­ized world. “We have to trea­sure this ini­tia­tive. It brings pros­per­ity and op­por­tu­ni­ties to many coun­tries, con­nects coun­try-to-coun­try and makes the world more global,” he said.

Un­der the frame­work of the ini­tia­tive, a col­lec­tion of 22 in­fra­struc­ture projects cov­er­ing road, rail­way, elec­tric­ity and en­ergy are cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion through­out Pak­istan, Guang­ming Daily re­ported in May.

Zahid be­lieves the ini­tia­tive also makes the two coun­tries get know each other bet­ter. “For Pak­istan, the ini­tia­tive is more than a road. It cov­ers all as­pects, like civil ed­u­ca­tion and me­dia at­ten­tion. It brought new winds to Pak­istan,” he said.

As a jour­nal­ism ma­jor, he said that the ini­tia­tive has al­ways been ban­ner news from the lo­cal me­dia. “The Pak­istani national tele­vi­sion started to tele­vise pro­grams about Chi­nese cul­ture and his­tory, which makes us more cu­ri­ous about China.”

Ab­stract in­fra­struc­ture

Vladimir Kryuchin from Rus­sia feels that the peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tions be­tween Rus­sia and China are closer in re­cent years due to the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive.

“What I find the most amaz­ing is not the real roads be­ing built but what we can call ‘ab­stract in­fra­struc­ture.’ These roads trans­port not only trade but ideas, ed­u­ca­tion and cul­ture,” Kryuchin said.

He ex­plained that, re­cently, Rus­sians have be­gun to take more in­ter­est in China and the Chi­nese lan­guage. Cur­rently there are 17 Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes in Rus­sia. He also senses a ris­ing in­ter­est among Chi­nese peo­ple of Rus­sia.

Kryuchin lives in St. Peters­burg, one of the hottest travel des­ti­na­tions in Rus­sia among Eu­ro­pean tourists. “But nowa­days I would say that more than a half of the tourists here are Chi­nese. I think that’s great. That is cul­ture ex­change,” he said.

“There are lots of tour guides here, but they don’t speak Chi­nese yet. I want to com­bine my knowl­edge of the city and my abil­ity to speak Chi­nese to in­tro­duce St. Peters­burg to the Chi­nese,” he said.

Hanna Li­askovska from the Ukraine is presently liv­ing in Shang­hai. Sev­eral years ago, her boyfriend brought her to China. She soon fell in love with the coun­try and its lan­guage. For the past two years she has been learn­ing Pu­ton-Shang­hai ghua at In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity. In her spare time she gath­ers her fel­low for­eign stu­dents to­gether to prac­tice a choir of Chi­nese songs. “We sing songs like Chengdu and The Moon Rep­re­sents My Heart,” said Li­askovska. “China is a great coun­try with a lot of cul­ture char­ac­ter­is­tics to of­fer to the world.”

Photo: VCG

For­eign stu­dents from Belt and Road coun­tries ex­pe­ri­ence pot­tery mak­ing with Chi­nese vol­un­teers in North China’s He­bei Province in April 2018.

Pho­tos: VCG and Lu Ting/GT

For­eign stu­dents from Belt and Road coun­tries paint pot­tery to­gether with Chi­nese vol­un­teers in North China’s He­bei Province in April 2018.

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