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Confucius institutes grow knowledge of China

By John Queripel | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-11-15 17:15

Local students show papercuttings during the 2018 Chinese Culture Day celebrations in Melbourne, Australia, May 11, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

With soft diplomacy becoming increasingly important in international relations, language and cultural studies, business skills and economic understandings are only going to grow in importance. To that end, institutions like China's Confucius Institute are certain to have a growing role.

The Confucius Institutes, originating in China, are not the first, being preceded by France's Allianz Francais, and the German Goethe Institute.

With the growing global influence of China, Confucius Institutes have spread around the world, now present in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, primarily in Australia.

Australia has 13 Confucius Institutes, resident at universities in every state and territory, the first being at the University of Western Australia in 2005. Only the US And the UK have more, while comparable numbers are found in France, Germany, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The Confucius Institutes are equally funded by Hanban, responsible to China's Department of Education, and each university in which they are present. Hanban describe their role as "providing scope for people all over the world to learn about Chinese language and culture. In addition they have become a platform for cultural exchanges between China and the world as well as a bridge reinforcing friendship and cooperation between China and the rest of the world."

Better knowledge of China is crucially important to Australia, with China being by far its largest trading partner, comprising around one-third of the nation's trade.

Important among the courses and seminars run by the Confucius Institutes are those directed to increasing business and economic contacts, enabling an improvement in trade and investment opportunities between Australia and China.

To facilitate these economic, business, and political contacts the Institutes run a variety of courses built around language skills, cross-cultural training, business etiquette, marketing strategies, e-commerce, negotiation skills and management. These are all designed to assist Australian businesses in the burgeoning Chinese market.

With connections between Australia and China again growing so rapidly, Chinese language skills in particular are set to become ever more important in Australia in coming years and Confucius Institutes are well placed to deliver.

Within Australia, the Institute in an internationally ground-breaking move was even present in one of the states, New South Wales school system, until it was closed down during the years of the previous Morrison government, when relations between Australia and China went into a tailspin. With relations improving after the election, in May 2022, of a new Australian government, led by Anthony Albanese, currently in China, those relations are again warming. This bodes well for the Confucius Institutes.

In this improving climate, hopefully, there will be a return of Institutes to the school systems in Australia, particularly at the primary level, where language learning proficiency is greatest.

Within the Australian university system, different Institutes offer specific courses specializing in a certain area, ranging from professional development for teachers to teach Chinese language and culture education in schools, to language and culture training for tourism purposes, and even teaching Chinese medicine. The particular universities involved will often partner with Chinese universities sharing similar specializations.

Other courses serve to deepen knowledge and appreciation of China by the general public, able to participate in a range of general courses facilitated by the Institute.

This general appreciation of China in the broader Australian context is important at a time of rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, and a general lack of knowledge concerning China in Australia.

The Institutes also prepare students for the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK), a worldwide test of the Chinese language set by the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China. The HSK exam report is the only officially recognized Chinese language proficiency certificate for foreigners applying to study and/or work in Chinese mainland.

Confucius Institutes are also involved in organizing Chinese language proficiency contests, with the best invited to compete in China.

Scholarships are also offered by Confucius Institutes enabling recipients to reside in China, receiving a stipend for further study.
Confucius Institutes are set to further foster relationships between Australia and China, not only by developing better business relationships, in trade and investment, serving as a catalyst for economic growth, but also to increasingly nurturing a deeper understanding and appreciation of China by the wider Australian populace.

Recent years have been difficult for Confucius Institutes in Australia due to the unfortunate political climate fostered by the previous government, now gradually on the improve, but also as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns in both countries.

With the corner now turned it seems that Confucius Institutes will play an important role in deepening understanding of China among Australian businesses, academia and the wider Australian populace.

John Queripel is a Newcastle, Australia based, writer, historian and social commentator.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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