Chinese University plan for Samoan study wins high praise

By Sapeer Mayron 08 September 2019, 9:00AM

Samoan and six other Pacific Islands languages will soon be taught at one of China's top universities as Beijing unveils a new cultural component to its Belt and Road Initiative across the region. 

Bachelor's programmes with specialisations in seven Pacific languages, including Samoan, Tongan, Tok Pisin and Marshallese, will be available for study at the Beijing Foreign Studies University (B.F.S.U.). The University is known as the country's "cradle of diplomats". 

The head of the National University of Samoa's Confucius Institute branch welcomed the news as a boost for exchange between Samoa and the world's largest country. 

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Pacific Islands to have their languages taught in China's famous foreign language university,” Dr. Liang said.

“The South Pacific has been an important yet not quite familiar region for B.F.S.U.

“They are looking for institutional partnerships in New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Niue and Papua New Guinea,” he said.

The B.F.S.U already offers 98 foreign languages including doctoral programs, Dr. Liang said, and is known in China as the ‘cradle of diplomats,’ having over 400 ambassadors among its alumni. 

“We value cultural exchange very much,” Dr. Liang said.

“We teach Chinese in Samoa and Samoan language is also taught in China. I think it's a reflection of friendship between Samoa and China.”

Samoa’s C.I Director Dr. Guojie Tony Liang said this program will help Chinese students and academics learn more about Samoan culture and people.

The chosen languages are those of each of China's official diplomatic partners in the region. Courses will begin being taught in 2020. 

The move will see China steal a march on other major players in the region as a centre for regional learning and influence.  

Samoan is scarcely taught at New Zealand tertiary institutions (Victoria University offers a Samoan Studies Bachelor's degree while some Samoan modules can be completed at Victoria University). 

The declining availability of Pacific language courses  in Australia has been lamented by diplomats and academics alike in that country

And while the Australian media has reported concern it is lagging behind on similar programmes, New Zealand's Minister for Pacfici Peoples Aupito William Sio said he welcomed the development.

“I think it's fantastic news,” Aupito said.

“It seems to me like a naturally perfect way to better work with Pacific Island Nations and its peoples, and I welcome China's proposal to teach Pacific Island languages.”

He said the language classes, whether they are for diplomatic purposes or not will be a “wonderful addition” to what New Zealand is trying to do for its Pacific people.

Aupito said China teaching Pacific languages will add to the international effort to protect these languages from further threat of extinction.

“Similar threats are occurring for the Samoan and Tongan languages in New Zealand, despite the Samoan language being the 3rd most spoken language in New Zealand behind English and te-reo Maori,” he said.

Aupito said better understanding between Chinese and Pacific Islanders through language can only create better relationships.

“Trusting working relationships are so important in the Pacific region given the increased level of interest in the Pacific.

“Teaching Pacific languages is a far better approach than to return to the ugly approaches of the past where our Pacific languages and cultures were often viewed by others as having little value. 

“There are many of us in the Pacific region that remember only too well the mistakes of the past during the colonial period where people were forced not to speak their heritage or indigenous languages. 

“That approach led to war, deaths and diseases, and no one wants to return to that.”


By Sapeer Mayron 08 September 2019, 9:00AM

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