China’s Economic and Education Ambitions on the New Silk Road

Eugene Sebastian, deputy pro vice-chancellor, business international, RMIT University, Australia and I recently published an article entitled “Knowledge helps power China along the new Silk Road” in The Australian. Here is the excerpt:

Chinese higher education along silk road
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The Silk Road concept is not new. Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the idea in 2013 during a visit to Kazakhstan and Indonesia. What is new is the use of education as a tool to help drive China’s regional economic ambitions.

China’s education strategy has three parts. First, Beijing has promised 10,000 new scholarships will be handed out every year to the countries along the Silk Road. Offering scholarships has worked in the past. Ten years ago, in support of its scaled-up engagement with Africa, Beijing introduced scholarships for African students, the numbers of which have more than doubled — as has its economic influence. China already provides a lot of scholarships to international students. In 2010, it sponsored almost 23,000 and plans to fund 50,000 by this year.

The second part involves using governance and technical training to engage government officials.Xi has highlighted training as an important form of co-operation. Yunnan province — in southwest China and an important pivot to South and Southeast Asia — is being positioned as a training base for public officials from Myanmar, Thailand and the Mekong subregion. Xi has even ­proposed sharing and integrating resources between countries to tackle issues such as youth ­employment, entrepreneurship training and vocational skills ­development.

The third part of the education strategy involves creating science and technology platforms, such as labs, centres and networks. These platforms will help promote research collaboration, exchanges and training. In Xinjiang province — the northwestern hub — plans are under way to establish a science and education centre that will open links into Central, South and West Asia, and Russia’s Far East. In May, Universities Alliance of the New Silk Road, led by Xi’an Jiaotong University, was established. The alliance draws together more than 60 universities from 22 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Russia.

Education can be an effective diplomatic tool for engaging neighbours. It’s practical, responsive to development needs and can be packaged easily for media communications. Beijing’s use of education will help it soften the edges of what is viewed regionally as an ambitious and politically complex endeavour. More important, the venture will allow China to address the region’s yawning skills gap, which invariably stands in the way of its economic ambitions.

Related links:
Xi’an Special: Alliance unites higher education along Silk Road route
Interactive Map: China’s New Silk Road
Silk Road Fund makes first investment
China Sees Itself at Center of New Asian Order (Image)