Report: Universities a way to promote China’s ‘soft power’

Zhang-Baohui-1

PETALING JAYA: Although most of the focus on China’s “One Belt, One Road” (Obor) initiative has been in areas such as land and development, a report says the economic powerhouse is also spreading its influence through its export of education.

Pointing to Xiamen University Malaysia in Sepang as an example, academics told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that Obor was not just an economic initiative.

“Exporting education is a way to promote China’s soft power,” Zhang Baohui, a professor of international affairs at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, was quoted as saying.

“Over time, China will have a bigger outward push by its universities in countries affected by Obor.”

He added that this would allay the concerns of those who feared the Obor initiative would make the country economically dependent on China.

“If the Belt and Road solely depends on China’s economic and financial clout, some countries may have concerns.

“China’s export of education, however, should not trigger similar concerns,” he was quoted as saying.

Xiamen University Malaysia was first mooted in 2012, in a meeting between Prime Minister Najib Razak and Wen Jiabao, who was China’s premier at the time.

It opened in February last year with a pioneer group of 187 students. In March this year, its president Wang Ruifang said the number of students had risen to 1,500, including 400 students from China.

There are now more than 1,900 students enrolled there, many of whom are Malaysians. According to the SCMP report, the university is targeting 5,000 students by 2020, with plans to eventually reach its full capacity of 10,000 students.

The campus, which is the size of 150 football pitches, is still under construction and is estimated to cost some RM1.3 billion.

The report quoted Wang as saying that the university was a testament to Sino-Malaysian friendship.

Besides Xiamen University Malaysia, China has also committed to two major infrastructure projects in Malaysia, namely the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and the Melaka Gateway ports project.

According to The Straits Times, Chinese companies have also signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysian firms to carry out the second phase of the ECRL from Gombak to Port Klang, as well as connect a multi-products gas and petroleum pipeline commencing from Melaka to a refinery under construction in Pengerang, Johor.

China is also said to have committed to US$2 trillion (RM8.7 trillion) worth of imports from Malaysia over the next five years, aside from offering 10,000 places for training and higher studies in China to Malaysians.