Taking the high road
Foreign students in Shanghai talk about the Belt and Road initiative
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.”
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.”
Foreign students from Belt and Road countries experience pottery making with Chinese volunteers in North China’s Hebei Province in April 2018.
Foreign students from Belt and Road countries paint pottery together with Chinese volunteers in North China’s Hebei Province in April 2018.