In an effort to bolster China’s cultural influence and expand bilateral ties, the Chinese government last week donated $203,000 to support the Kingdom’s increasingly popular Chinese-language classes.
The funding was transferred last Thursday to the Chinese Association in Cambodia, which said it plans to expand class offerings, textbook availability and the number of teachers at 55 language programs it supports throughout the nation.
Chinese has become increasingly popular among students and professionals looking for a leg-up in the business world, as they perceive China to be tied to the Kingdom’s future economic development and the language skills key to a lucrative career, according to the association.
“After Khmer, the mother tongue, English is the first foreign language sought, and then Chinese language is the second most popular [foreign language] in Cambodia,” Chhin Eak Shing, director of academic affairs at the Chinese Association, said.
Cambodians of Chinese descent are one of the Kingdom’s largest ethnic minorities, numbering between 700,000 and a million, according to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Chinese schools originally catering to second- and third-generation Chinese-Cambodians now attract a much wider range of students looking to gain language and cultural skills pertinent to one of Cambodia’s largest investors.
Those students now want to broaden their skills from primary level to fluency, according to Zhou Liyun, the coordinator of the Chinese Department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Zhou said the country’s first university-level Chinese program started in 2008 with just two classes and 50 students.
Now, the centre supports 350 budding Chinese speakers.
“Now that China has become wealthy, a lot of people sense they can get a job if they learn Chinese,” Zhou said.
“In Cambodia, we need a lot of professional translators and bilingual tour guides, so students see language classes, and especially Chinese, as a good investment.”
In addition to providing donations, China has supported the learning of Chinese by sending volunteers on one-year teaching stints.
Still, China’s cultural donation pales in comparison to the total of $2.89 billion provided as of December of last year in grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans to support hydropower projects, roads and other development plans.