Learning Latin America: China’s Strategy for Area Studies Development

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America and the World program and the China-based Comunidad de Estudios Chinos y Latinoamericanos (CECLA) are pleased to publish “Learning Latin America: China’s Strategy for Area Studies Development,” which details recent efforts by the Chinese government to develop a new generation of area studies experts.

Chinese think tanks, such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and universities, such as Nankai University in Tianjin, have studied the Latin American region for many decades. However, as China assumes an increasingly prominent global role and is exposed to higher levels of risk, the country’s central government is working to expand and improve its global awareness, including of the Latin American region.

Since 2010, a series of Chinese government policies has supported the development of increasingly high quality Latin American and other area studies centers across the country in an effort to inform China’s foreign policy-making. In addition to the creation of new centers, the policies encourage upgrades to existing ones through formal registration and accreditation processes.

Report findings include the following:

  • The Chinese central government is constructing a policy framework to develop area studies through the establishment of “Regional and Country Studies Bases” to better inform China’ s foreign policy-making.
  • China now boasts nearly 60 centers focused on the Latin American region alone. These range considerably in both size and capacity, from those with only one or two dedicated staff to well-established institutions like the CASS Institute of Latin American Studies, which employs dozens of researchers.
  • Most of the country’s Latin American studies centers are affiliated with universities in China’s major coastal cities, although a few have opened in inland provinces in recent years. A handful are dedicated to the study of individual Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay, or sub-regions, such as the Andean region.
  • Many of the educational institutions that host Latin American studies centers also provide coursework in Spanish and/or Portuguese. The study of these languages in China has also grown at a remarkable rate. To date, there are roughly 120 Spanish language departments and 40 Portuguese language departments throughout the country.
  • Area studies are likely to remain a priority for China. The Belt and Road Initiative’s extension to Latin America will likely further promote Chinese study of the region and its languages in the coming years.
  • Although much still remains to be done to achieve in-depth understanding of Latin America in China, efforts to develop homegrown expertise will undoubtedly benefit Chinese policymakers and investors as both work to strengthen ties to the region.

Learn more about the Dialogue’s work on China and Latin America


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