While visiting Yunnan in 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao declared that the province must position itself as the country's economic and cultural gateway to Southeast Asia. The province has since undertaken massive infrastructure projects strengthening its links with Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia.
Yesterday the provincial government announced an initiative to train 100,000 college students to speak Southeast Asian languages by the year 2015, China News is reporting. The initiative will involve all of Yunnan's 28 colleges and universities.
The program will encourage students interested in studying foreign languages to consider those from ASEAN countries as viable alternatives to English. Officials are hopeful that students studying foreign affairs, economics, international trade and international cultural exchange will also participate in the initiative.
To promote the program the Yunnan Education Department and Yunnan Normal University will work together to host "Southeast Asia Week" as an annual event. According to China News, the week will host language contests between different university groups and promote study-abroad opportunities.
The demand for bi- and multi-lingual graduates is expected to rise sharply in Yunnan as several transport infrastructure projects come online. Kunming will open China's fourth largest international airport on June 28. The US$3.6 billion project is expected to handle 950,000 tons of cargo per year, connect Yunnan to Europe and the Middle East and increase connectivity within Asia.
Kunming's second railway station is also currently under construction and is expected to open in 2015. When finished, the station will connect Kunming via a high speed railway network to Vientiane, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
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