[lg policy] In Pursuit of Global Know-how: China’s New Area Studies Policy

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Aug 3 13:43:03 EDT 2018

 In Pursuit of Global Know-how: China’s New Area Studies Policy

Beijing is making a concerted push to foster expertise on foreign regions
and countries.
By Margaret Myers and Ricardo Barrios
August 03, 2018

In order to cope with the complex demands of its growing global role, China
has been keeping a closer eye on international affairs. Nowhere is this
clearer than in China’s recent push to foster area studies development
within nation’s top educational institutions. The Inter-American Dialogue’s
recent report
*Learning Latin America: China’s Strategy for Area Studies Development*,
traces the gradual development of China’s area studies, with an in-depth
look at Chinese study of the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.

China’s efforts to develop foreign expertise are supported by a robust
policy framework. Launched by the Ministry of Education in 2011, China’s
“Regional and Country Studies Bases” policy calls for a nation-wide network
of area studies centers to carry out basic and applied research on foreign
regions and subregions, from the Persian Gulf to the Amazon and beyond.
This includes a two-step registration and accreditation process, as
outlined by the Ministry of Education, with related incentives, including
the possibility of $45,000-$75,260 in center funding

The requirements for center registration are relatively straightforward.
For example, centers must provide evidence of a clear organizational
structure, designate office space, and establish an “academic research
institution,” such as a Confucius Institute, in the center’s geographic
area of focus. To achieve full accreditation, area studies centers must
hold at least one course on the center’s area of specialty and one annual
scholarly meeting, among other requirements.
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Although the project is academic in substance, the goal of the area studies
enterprise is noticeably pragmatic: to inform China’s overseas engagement.
The centers’ primary function, according to relevant government documents,
is to provide consultation
services to the state, while also developing a crop of cross-disciplinary
regional studies experts. In the words of former Vice Minister of Education
Hao Ping, the initiative aims
<http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/moe_176/201102/t20110228_115393.html> to
meet state “demands” to “train a large group of internationalized
specialists who would have an international outlook, be familiar with
international norms, and be capable of participating in international
affairs and competition.”

The exact number of area studies centers is difficult to pinpoint, but
hundreds <http://www.sohu.com/a/167268851_618422> are now evident across
China. To date, China has some 60 centers dedicated to the LAC region
alone, although only 16 of them have successfully registered in accordance
with the government’s area studies policy. Some, such as the Institute of
Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
<http://ilas.cass.cn>, are sizable, with established reputations. Others,
such as Qingdao University’s Latin America Center
<http://qdzgxy.qdu.edu.cn/info/1067/1393.htm>, are small upstarts with
little to show in the way of staff or content. A few, like the Center for
Mexican Studies <https://news.bfsu.edu.cn/archives/4791> at Beijing
Language and Culture University and the Center for China-Latin America
Management Studies <http://www.tsccla.sem.tsinghua.edu.cn> at Tsinghua
University, conduct research on particular countries or disciplines.

China’s pursuit of area studies expertise has also focused to a
considerable degree on foreign language acquisition. The country’s foreign
language departments are growing as rapidly as area studies centers, if not
more so in some cases. To date, China has roughly 120 Spanish language and
40 Portuguese language departments around the country, which train China’s
future academics, interpreters, and diplomats.

The great irony is that China’s efforts to better understand the outside
world are modeled after the United States’ own area studies push, which
took place after World War II. In both cases, area studies were promoted by
and for the state in response to growing global interests and an expanding
risk profile. As the United States turns increasingly inward, however,
China is hoping to understand the world in new and increasingly nuanced

*Margaret Myers is the Program Director in the Inter-American Dialogue’s
Latin America and the World Program, which focuses on China-Latin America
affairs. Ricardo Barrios is the Program Associate in the same program.*


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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