As China scholar and China and Latin America Working Group member, David Shambaugh, mentioned in Adrian Hearn’s and Jose Luis Leon-Manriquez’s China Engages Latin America: Tracing the Trajectory, interest in studying China and Chinese language is growing in Latin America, but there is still a very low level of understanding among the region’s people and governments. Latin America’s China- and/or Asia-focused studies programs are very limited. They range from well-respected universities and top-notch institutions like UNAM’s China-Mexico Studies Center to small schools offering extracurricular courses in tai chi or Chinese calligraphy. Though not included on our map, Latin America also boasts twenty-one Confucius Institutes and eight Confucius Classrooms. Confucius Institutes are established in coordination with Hanban, a division of China’s Ministry of Education that promotes Chinese culture and language abroad.
Though often thought to have the upper-hand in regional studies, China’s understanding of Latin America is also very limited. The country has several think tanks dedicated (at least in part) to the study of Latin America – CASS ILAS, CICIR, and SIIS, for example, conduct very good Chinese-language research on the region’s history, economy, politics, policies, and foreign relations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) China Institute of International Studies and the Ministry of Commerce-affiliated Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation also employ Latin America experts with impressive Spanish and Portuguese language skills. The MFA’s Latin America experts have studied at SAIS and other U.S. educational institutions. In total, however, there are only about fifty scholars/experts in China that focus specifically on Latin America. Many of them are listed HERE. Latin American studies programs in China’s universities are also very limited, usually residing in history departments. Nankai, Fudan, Peking, and Jianghan Universities all have centers for Latin America studies within their history departments. Sichuan Foreign Studies University, Zhejiang Foreign Studies University, and the Southwest University of Science and Technology recently established institutes of Latin American studies, though all seem to focus primarily on language study.
Most all China-Latin America relations experts have recognized the need for greater cross-regional understanding between Latin America and China. As China’s role expands in Latin America, countries are in desperate need of China experts and Chinese speakers to develop trade ties, promote investment, negotiate effectively, challenge counterproductive stereotypes, and encourage multi-faceted bilateral relationships. Latin American businesses with little understanding of Chinese culture, business practices, or commercial regulations, find operation in China to be extremely daunting. The same can be said for Chinese firms operating in Latin America, and especially for China’s small- and medium-sized enterprises.