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Educational exchange: an approach to promoting mutual understanding

By Wu Hongying | 2013-07-25 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A journalist from Barbados gets her own experience of drawing patterns 
at the China Farmers' Painting Village, in Jinshan District of Shanghai, China, June 10, 2010.
China traces five thousand years of history and splendid culture since its inception as an ancient civilization, while Latin America is the cradle of the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations. Although China and Latin America are located on two separate continents thousands of miles from each other, their trade relations and exchange of personnel date back to the 16th century. In recent years, with Sino-Latin American political and economic ties entering the “express way,” there are increasingly frequent cultural exchanges and deeper educational cooperation between China and Latin America..
“A bosom friend afar brings a distant land near”
Cultural and educational exchange and cooperation constitute an important part of Sino-Latin American ties. They are a vehicle for further development of this relationship. The present situation of cultural exchange and educational cooperation is aptly and vividly described by an old Chinese maxim: “A bosom friend afar brings a distant land near.” With the substantial advances in modern transportation and communication, the geographical distance between China and Latin America has been greatly reduced; the strong aspiration to know and cooperate with each other further reduces the psychological distance among the peoples. China’s cultural delegations and artistic groups have visited Latin American countries regularly; the Film Week, Cultural Week, and photography and painting exhibitions held in Latin America received warm welcome and praise from a broad range. At the same time, Latin American countries have also sent delegations to China and held all manner of exhibitions. These received a positive response and supportive attitude from the Chinese people.
China and Latin America have also jointly held many entrepreneur forums and think tank forums. Additionally, both are each other’s top tourism destinations. Particularly in recent years, Latin America has seen the emergence of a “China-craze”; more and more people want to study Chinese and learn about Chinese history and culture. In February 2006, the first Latin American Confucius Institute was established in Mexico. Since then, 23 Confucius Institutes and 9 Confucius Classrooms have been launched successively in Latin America, covering almost all Latin American countries. Even so, they can hardly meet the demand among Latin Americans who are eager to study the language and better understand China.
Successfully extending cultural exchange to political exchange
Sino-Latin American cultural exchange enjoys a long history. It serves as a pioneering bridge, especially in the process of China’s establishing diplomatic relations with Latin American countries. Faced with the bipolar world after its founding ,the People’s Republic of China reinitiated relations with Latin American countries, at first through cultural and non-governmental exchange; then they extended to economic and trade relations, and finally to the geopolitical arena.
In 1960, Cuba became the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with China. It was followed by Chile in 1970, which became the first South American country to establish diplomatic relations. In Central America, Costa Rica became the first country in to establish diplomatic relations with China in 2007. At present, 21 out of 33 Latin American countries have established formal diplomatic relations with China. These all followed the same formula, in which the two countries benefit from cultural exchange in a preliminary period, then the successful extension from cultural exchange to political exchange later on. It is fair to say that cultural exchange serves as a link between the people of China and Latin America, serving to facilitate communication with each other and strengthen their friendship.
The Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of cultural exchange and educational cooperation with Latin American countries. Sino-Latin American cultural exchange and educational cooperation have entered a new stage development defined by engagement through various channels and at multiple levels, as well as greater speed. So far, China has signed dozens of exchange and cooperation agreements with more than 20 Latin American countries in cultural, educational and technological areas. These agreements not only set the direction for Sino-Latin American further cultural and educational exchange, but also provide institutional guarantees. An increasing amount of enterprises, non-governmental organizations and citizens are taking part in and benefitting from these exchange and cooperation projects, thus bringing people of China and Latin America closer, strengthening their mutual understanding, and promoting their friendship and cooperation.
Sound political, economic and trade relations lay solid foundations for cultural and educational cooperation
Sino-Latin American cultural and educational exchange and cooperation enjoy a broad space for future development, owing to the fact that sound political relations provide strong political guarantees. Currently, China has established dialogue and consultation mechanisms with most of the 21 Latin American countries which have diplomatic relations with China, set up strategic dialogue mechanisms with 6 strategic partners, i.e., Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and Chile, and launched regular dialogue mechanisms of foreign ministers with Chile, Venezuela and Cuba—known as the three driving forces of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. In the context of severe and volatile international situations, China and Latin America have enhanced high-level contacts under the principle of equality, mutual benefit and common development. In particular, they have taken the opportunity provided by regional and global summits to seek high-level dialogues with each other and promote cooperation and mutual trust in major global affairs.
At the same time, thriving economic and trade development provides a solid material foundation for Sino-Latin American cultural and educational exchange and cooperation. Sino-Latin American bilateral trade hit a record $241.5 billion in 2011, an increase of 31.5 percent year on year, among which China’s exports totaled $121.7 billion and imports $119.8 billion. By December 2011, China’s non-financial FDI in Latin America reached $10.12 billion, accounting for 16.8 percent of China’s total non-financial FDI that year. China is now Latin America’s second largest trading partner and third largest source of FDI. According to the projections of the Inter-American Development Bank, exports from Latin American countries to China are expected to account for 19.3 percent of Latin America’s total export volume in 2020, up from 7.6 percent in 2009. The Chinese government is currently targeting a goal of making Sino-Latin American trade break $40 billion US in 5 years, a goal both China and Latin America are striving for in future. Clearly, there is strong momentum for Sino-Latin American economic and trade cooperation to continue achieving impressive growth, mutual benefit and win-win outcomes.
Cultural exchange key to further strengthening Sino-Latin American friendship
It is not only common sense for all sectors of China and Latin America to strengthen exchange, promote understanding and enhance friendship between each other, but also the driving force of Sino-Latin American cultural and educational exchange and cooperation. With the deepening process of cultural exchange and educational cooperation, the scope and connotations of Sino-Latin American relations and cooperation are bound to be extended, enriched and perfected. In turn, the overall development of Sino-Latin American relations will further promote the “upgrading” of their cultural and educational exchange and cooperation. In June 2012, Premier Wen Jiabao made an official visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, to work with their leaders jointly to map out a blueprint for bilateral relations. These blueprints clearly take cultural exchange as a link, proposing to strengthen Sino-Latin American friendship and promote the overall relations between China and Latin America on the strategic level.
Chinese and Latin American cultures share the common characteristics of pluralism, inclusiveness, openness and innovation. At the same time they naturally attract, complement and draw on each other’s knowledge bases and experience due to the unique characteristics that are a product of their different national conditions. Moreover, China and Latin America are at the same developmental stage and face similar developmental tasks, thus enjoying a wide range of common interests. Consequently, Sino-Latin American cultural and educational exchange and cooperation have every reason to be confident in embracing a new period of prosperity in the process of increasing their knowledge of each other, so long as they adhere to principles of mutual respect, equality, complementing each other and cooperating in good faith.
Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 412, February 1, 2013.
Translated by Da Yujie
Revised by Charles Horne