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Xi Jinping touts Mandarin learning as route to US, UK relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping put his weight behind the expansion of Mandarin language teaching overseas, during visits to the US and UK this month, as leaders from both countries agreed that language is the best way to create truly bilateral relations.

Xi Jinping speaking at the House of Lords in the UK. Image: House of Lords 2015/Roger Harris. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.

“People-to-people exchanges are a vibrant and promising area of bilateral cooperation, which promote the steady and sound growth of bilateral relations”

To support the expansion of Mandarin provision, the US has launched its 1 Million Strong programme and the world’s 1,000th Confucius Institute was opened in the UK. The UK government has also extended its tourist visa for Chinese visitors, aiming to attract more people from the country to the UK.

“If our two countries are going to do more together around the world, then speaking each other’s languages so we can understand each other is a good start”

During Xi’s visit to Washington, DC earlier this month, President Obama announced the new initiative that will see the number of US students learning Mandarin reach one million by 2020.

“If our two countries are going to do more together around the world, then speaking each other’s languages so we can understand each other is a good start,” he said.

The 1 Million Strong initiative aims to expand K-12 Mandarin learners fivefold by doubling the number of Mandarin language teachers in the US and supporting the development of new learning technology to increase access to language learning.

It will be managed by the non-profit 100,000 Strong Foundation, which last year met Obama’s goal set in 2009 to see 100,000 US students to study in China over five years.

The foundation is currently working with a number of state officials to prepare a pilot programme, and gather funding from NGOs, private corporations in both countries and US states that want to implement the project.

The announcement was made after Xi declared his support for student mobility between the two countries while visiting Seattle as part of his US tour, saying that “The foundation of the China-US friendship has its roots in the people and its future rests with the youth.”

Supporting greater mobility between the UK and China also topped the president’s agenda during his visit to the UK last week.

A joint statement issued by both the UK and Chinese governments pledged to “boost cultural and educational links and to enhance sport and media exchanges”, increase bilateral travel among young people and “work together to increase the opportunities for study and tourism”.

“The foundation of the China-US friendship has its roots in the people and its future rests with the youth”

“People-to-people exchanges are a vibrant and promising area of bilateral cooperation, which strengthen creativity and innovation on both sides and promote the steady and sound growth of bilateral relations,” it read.

While in London, Xi opened the annual conference of UK Confucius Institutes and Classrooms held at University College London’s Institute of Education.

During the ceremony, Xi presented a plaque to Hautlieu School in Jersey, marking the world’s 1,000th Confucius Classroom after twinning with Xi’s former school, BaYi in Beijing.

Speaking at the ceremony, Xi told attendees that learning a language is the best way to understand a country and that Confucius Institutes serve as important platforms to help the world know China.

Prince Andrew, who was also in attendance, echoed Xi, saying: “By learning the language, understanding the culture and civilisation, we can make better use of our skills in order to work together in the future.”

In order to further encourage movement between the countries, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced the extension of the UK’s six-month tourist visa to two years for Chinese visitors, including multiple entry, which will launch in January and could be extended to introduce a 10-year visa.

“It will mean that the UK has the best offer in Europe for Chinese tourists and will build on our already strong people to people links, strengthening UK-China relations further,” Cameron said.

Meanwhile, the White House announced a US-China Tourism Year in 2016, a joint programme led by the US Department of Commerce and the China National Tourism Administration, which will include events to promote travel between the two countries.

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