Saudi Arabia to Teach Chinese as Third Language
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (far right) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (far left) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (How Hwee Young/AFP via Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia to Teach Chinese as Third Language

Riyadh sees enhanced cooperation between two countries as integral part of its Vision 2030 diversification program

In an effort to enhance friendship and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, the Gulf kingdom will include Chinese as an optional third language taught in schools and universities.

This is a direct outgrowth of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Beijing last February, where he signed a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding in the fields of energy, investment, transport and technology, all of which are expected to bring bilateral relations to a new high.

China will reportedly fund part of the language program, which is expected to open the door for Saudi citizens to an estimated 50,000 jobs.

Suliman al-Ogaily, a member of the board of directors of the Saudi Society for Political Science, told The Media Line that the move was part of a new policy of openness in support of Saudi Vision 2030, a plan aimed at diversifying sources of national income and restructuring the economy away from oil.

“It is a decision aimed at promoting cultural diversity and expanding educational concepts to reach a level of interaction with the Chinese economic power that goes beyond imports and exports, to joint investments and Chinese tourism – which appears to be one of the most important sources of tourism,” Ogaily said.

He noted that trade between the countries reached about $60 billion in 2018, an increase of close to a third over the previous year.

Ogaily explained that in its first stage of implementation, the new language initiative will be limited to eight secondary schools in three cities: Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, also the program will eventually expand later to include more schools and universities in additional regions.

The Chinese language, he added, “will not compete with English, which is the second language in the kingdom, after Arabic. It will always be seen as a supplement to be useful in foreign trade and for cultural and tourism exchanges.”

He pointed out that although Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, it will help Saudi youth draw on China’s knowledge and the country’s successful experience with artificial intelligence, industrial development and knowledge economics.

“These are areas that Saudi Arabia is focusing on in its new economic project [Vision 2030],” he explained. “The Saudi ambitions converge with Chinese aspirations. Whereas Riyadh has a strategic goal of dispensing with oil by 2030 and diversifying its sources of wealth, Beijing aspires to be [the world’s economic] powerhouse at about the same time.”

The Vision 2030 plan also seeks to develop the country’s workforce. For example, during the past two years, the plan has allowed Saudi women to drive and seek employment across a full spectrum of fields, whereas in the past they had been limited to such sectors as education.

(The Saudi Education Ministry failed to respond to queries from The Media Line for more information.)

Khaled bin Ali Batafi, a professor of social studies at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, told The Media Line that China ranks second after the United States in terms of trade with Saudi Arabia.

There are major Chinese investments in the Jazan area, which is in the southwestern part of the kingdom, in addition to other investments in tourism and petrochemicals, he related. Moreover, the kingdom has several industrial and oil projects of its own in China.

“In 20 years, the Chinese economy is expected to be the largest in the world,” he said. “Therefore, investing in relations with this emerging country, which is the most developing in the world, is a good decision.”

Kharima al-Boukhari, a leading Saudi activist, told The Media Line that the decision was a positive move as it will open new doors between the Saudi and Chinese people.

“When you understand the language, you understand the culture and thought processes of that people,” she explained.

Boukhari said the Chinese culture is rich and unique, while Chinese society has beautiful traditions that make improved relations important.

“Chinese people are brilliant,” she stated, “and preceded many peoples in the fields of technology and inventions.”

She explained that the Saudi people are highly curious about the East, especially the Korean and Japanese cultures.

“Saudis watch Korean and Japanese TV series, and some Saudis have already mastered the Korean language. Thus, [learning] Chinese won’t be frowned upon,” she noted.

“The openness witnessed in Saudi Arabia is wonderful,” she continued. “It helps the Saudis open up to other cultures and accept the other, and thus facilitates their interaction with other nations around the world.”

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