BEIJING, Aug. 22, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Ni Hao (Hello), welcome to Thailand!" Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, a "senior student" at the Confucius Institute of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, greets visiting journalist from the Global Times in Chinese.
This 71-year-old former minister of education in Thailand eagerly showcases the progress of his 11 years of Chinese study – as part of the results of his long-term campaign to promote Chinese language education in Thailand.
In his eyes, China’s rapid economic development and proximity to Thailand keep motivating more Thai people to learn Chinese and understand the real China.
During his tenure as minister of education, Suchart promoted the teaching of the Chinese language, attempting to enhance the country’s educational revolution, and achieve the goal that Thai students will be able to speak both English and Chinese as early as possible. Suchart believes that in the future, Thai government officials should be proficient in two foreign languages: English and Chinese. "Because one-fifth of the world’s population speaks Chinese. It is very important. I hope that in the future, we [China and Thailand] can communicate with each other using Chinese."
Han Shenglong, the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at Chulalongkorn University, told the Global Times that in Thailand, Chinese has gradually replaced Japanese as the second-largest foreign language after English.
Currently, there are 17 Confucius Institutes in Thailand. At its peak, there were over 2,000 Chinese teachers and volunteers teaching Chinese in Thailand, according to Han.
The institute was established in 2007 through an educational collaboration between Peking University and Chulalongkorn University, with the facilitation of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand who has had a great friendship with China for about four decades.
In fact, the Thai government has also recognized the importance of promoting Chinese education, said Han, as all officially registered educational institutions under the Thai Ministry of Education are required to offer Chinese classes. Chinese has entered Thailand’s national education system.
Suchart admitted that learning Chinese is indeed difficult. "Many characters look different but have the same pronunciation, and many characters have different pronunciations in different places." However, for Suchart, whose ancestral roots are in Chaozhou-Shantou region, southern China, learning Chinese is not just driven by an interest in his ancestral culture and civilization, but is also inspired by Chinese philosophy and thousands of years of wisdom that can be used in his work.
After retirement, Suchart is still involved in Thai government’s strategic consulting work, and woks of traditional Chinese literatures such as The Art of War and The Analects have provided him with new ideas.
"I believe that when governing a country, we can learn from the thoughts provided in The Analects, while when competing with others, The Art of War is more instructive," Suchart told the Global Times. Suchart regards the rapid development of the Chinese economy as another impetus for Thai people to learn Chinese.
"Over 30 years ago, when I first went to Beijing, the airport was very small, and it took 2-3 hours to drive to the city center," Suchart recalled, but when he traveled to China again in 2018, "Beijing had changed so much. China now has convenient transportation, complete infrastructure, and cities like Beijing are filled with high-rise buildings."
"More and more Thai people are realizing that the Chinese economy has been rapidly and comprehensively developing since the reform and opening up," said the former government official.
In recent years, with the deepening integration of China–Thailand economic strategies, educational exchanges between the two countries have entered a new phase.
Han said that Chinese language teaching in Thailand has now become more practical, with the aim to cultivate Chinese language talents who can work in industries such as high-speed rail, logistics, tourism, and e-commerce. China’s National Press and Publication Administration in March signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Thailand’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation on translating and publishing classic works from the two countries, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
According to the MOU, 50 classic works from these countries will be translated and published within the next five years, in a bid to enhance mutual understanding and friendship between Chinese and Thai people through the provision of more translated works.
Deemed a landmark achievement in exchanges and cooperation in publication between China and Thailand, the signing of the MOU is expected to generate new opportunities and serve as a driving force to deepen people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and mutual learning between the two countries, according to the report.
Suchart told the Global Times that during his tenure as the education minister in Thailand, he expressed his hopes that Chinese educational institutions would send 10,000 Chinese language teachers to Thailand to provide Chinese language education. Today, he still hopes to see more Chinese language teachers and students in Thailand.