The soft power of ‘Happy Chinese’ – Michael Vatikiotis

From the International Herald Tribune:

…The Thai Education Ministry aims to promote the Chinese language alongside compulsory English and hopes that one third of high school students will be proficient in Chinese within five years.

Lending impetus to this move are China’s other efforts to promote Chinese language education overseas. Beijing recently established the Confucius Institute, modelled on the British Council and German Goethe Institute, as a nonprofit outfit with the stated mission of “promoting Chinese language and culture and supporting local Chinese teaching.” Eleven of the centers have been established in the United States, Europe and Asia. China’s national office for teaching Chinese as a foreign language, which runs the Confucius Institutes, will provide textbooks for schools in Southeast Asia with the catchy title “Happy Chinese.”

All of this is a sign of expanding Chinese soft power. But what are the implications of the spread of Chinese language and culture? It’s a more important question in a region like Southeast Asia where as many as half the people living in urban areas like Bangkok are of Chinese descent.