Foreign and Military Affairs

Overseas officials head to Chinese classrooms

By Chen Jia and Ding Qingfen (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-05 06:50
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Beijing - China has become one of the world's most popular overseas study destinations for government officials from developing nations, Ministry of Commerce figures showed.

The Chinese government funded 1,395 research and training programs in the past 11 years and these were attended by 36,364 government officials from developing countries, ministry figures showed.

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"Our programs for government officials from these developing nations aim to help them develop their human resources," ministry spokesman Yao Jian said.

Mary Omolara Oludoun, a 46-year-old official of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education, is a student of one of these programs.

The mother of four is currently spending the summer in Peking University and is set to earn her master's degrees in public policy and education. She is now busy with her dissertation research on "institutionalizing international scholarship among developed and developing countries".

"Peking University is now my alma mater. I have enjoyed the best in terms of what education is all about. It is difficult to compare this experience with where I come from," she told China Daily.

"Having a master's degree in Peking University is a lifetime experience. I couldn't have been more privileged."

Oludoun was among hundreds of foreign officials attending a public management master's program, which was jointly launched by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Commerce from 2008 to target senior officials from developing nations.

The program is now hosted by the two most prestigious universities in China - Peking University and Tsinghua University - and will be expanded to more universities.

It is offered to officials of and above the county-level in government agencies, managers of and above the department-level in universities or institutions, as well as business administrators from developing nations.

The program has attracted 127 participants from 44 countries of Asia and Africa, figures from the Ministry of Education showed.

"It is the first aid program in postgraduate degree education offered to foreign officials," Zhang Xiuqin, director of the department of international cooperation and exchanges under the Ministry of Education, told China Daily.

More than 120,000 foreigners from about 170 countries and regions have benefited from training programs in China in the past six decades, Yao said.

Among the programs' participants are 417 ministerial-level officials from 92 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe.

The programs include sectors like the economy, trade, agriculture, public administration, radio and television, forestry, transportation and telecommunications.

"China provides the world with a very successful developing mode. The training program helps us know first-hand experience related to China's exports, mechanisms for absorbing foreign investment and opening-up," said Veronica Baraona Del Pedrega, Chile's vice-minister of mining who participated in one of the training programs in China.

Many developed countries have practiced similar training programs, but the Chinese programs should not be a copy of these, said Huo Qingwen, a researcher at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Many foreign officials have said the English-taught courses and Chinese language classes enrich their study in China.

Aside from the educational programs, China has also been steadily increasing its support for cultural exchanges, sending doctors and teachers to work abroad, welcoming students from other nations to study in China, and promoting Chinese-language programs overseas.

To that effect, the country has set up Confucius Institutes in 88 countries and 272 locations worldwide to spread Chinese language and culture, reaching about 280,000 students.

China's fast economic growth will bring about a steady expansion in its cultural and diplomatic influence, which will appeal especially to developing nations, analysts said.

"People often conflate soft power with investment and economic development, but I define it as culture, education, and diplomacy," said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.

"There's a belief that to get ahead, it would behoove you to go to China, in the same way that 10 years ago people said the same about the United States," she said.