Representatives and guests at a forum on supporting the One Belt, One Road initiative. Photo: Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Representatives and guests at a forum on supporting the One Belt, One Road initiative. Photo: Hong Kong Polytechnic University

China is set to broaden its connection with Eurasia by offering 100 Silk Road scholarships to attract students in countries on the route of the One Belt, One Road initiative.

“Each of the 100 scholarships will reach at least 50,000 yuan,” said Li Liang, the director of the International Cooperation and Exchange Department at Xi’an Jiaotong University during a forum on November 25 in Hong Kong. The scholarships will primarily be offered to masters or doctoral students in various fields of study, Li added.

Li was among senior administrative staff and students from more than 10 universities invited to attend the “International Forum: Nurturing Talent and Building Capacity in Supporting the Belt and Road Development”. Hong Kong Polytechnic University hosted the forum at Hotel ICON in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The Silk Road scholarships are part of plans by the Universities Alliance of the New Silk Road, which was initiated by Xi’an Jiaotong University in May 2015.  It later included 134 universities from 34 countries and regions, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.

With plans to set up policy studies centres, joint labs, summer schools and elite training programs, the alliance aims to serve as a leading education platform to cover the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the One Belt, One Road development strategy in 2013 aimed at reviving the land and maritime Silk Roads dating back to the days of Marco Polo.

“Belt” refers to a vast area in Eurasia, and “Road” stands for the sea route that links China’s coastal cities to Africa and the Mediterranean, passing key ports in Southeast Asia and the Suez Canal.

Xi set up a US$40 billion Silk Road infrastructure fund to kick-start the project.

Earlier this year, HK$1 billion had been allocated to launch the One Belt, One Road scholarship by the Hong Kong government. The scholarship was first offered in Indonesia and is expected to further expand along the so-called marine Silk Road.

Malaysia could soon be the next country to benefit from the scholarship, after the Education Minister of Hong Kong, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, told the November 25 forum that he would visit the country and sign a memorandum on Monday.

However, critics say the Hong Kong government’s support of the One Belt, One Road initiative is aimed at flattering the central government.

The initiative has long been criticised for its vague definition and interpreted as political propaganda with an economic flavor that is   really intended to reduce China’s overcapacity in steel and coal, by building infrastructure around the region.

“It is a collective responsibility and an opportunity for us to sign the primary drive of the collaboration that is represented by this initiative is to support a shared prosperity across the regions to involve,” said Dinah Birch, the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, at the forum.

She defended the initiative by reminding international society not to lose sight of the fact that fragmentation is not the path to the kind of prosperity people expect.

Birch was referring to the rising resistance to globalisation that was signalled by the Brexit outcome in the UK and the election of Donald Trump on November 8 as the next US president.

Is China the next overseas education destination?

With the increasing number of scholarships gradually covering all countries along both “the Belt” and “the Road”, the initiative is becoming the catalyst for making China the new top destination for international students.

According to the Education Ministry, the number of international students in China from One Belt, One Road countries like India, Pakistan and Kazakhstan saw an increase of over 10% in 2015 from a year earlier, which is the largest increase among the top 15 countries that sent students to China.

This number is likely to continue to grow. On August 11, the ministry announced an increase in the quota of central government scholarships for Belt and Road countries. In the next five years, 10,000 students per year from these regions will be sponsored to study in China.

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