Special Report – Belt and Road

Transnational education promotes better understanding across belt and road cultures

As Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ moves forward, more institutes are providing courses to help the next generation find their way through negotiations with people from different backgrounds and cultures

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 4:00pm

As Beijing pushes forward with its initiative to reinvent ancient economic routes, involving dozens of nations with different cultures, questions about cross-cultural management are never far from critics’ minds.

Emerging markets are preparing to participate in Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, and some institutes across the region are now focused on getting the upcoming generation ready to work in and with partner nations of this scheme.

Positioning itself as a business hub for this Pan-Asian strategy, Singapore opened its Belt and Road Multi-Cultural Studies Centre in July.

The centre is the result of a collaboration between the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in Singapore, and Xiamen University’s Overseas Education College (OEC). At its opening ceremony, Zheng Tongtao, dean of Xiamen University OEC, said: “We see great potential for LSBF in Singapore to facilitate the development of education under the [‘Belt and Road Initiative’].”

The vision for this collaboration, he explained, was to move forward with a shared vision of transnational education based on cultural exchanges.

LSBF is said to be the first private education institution in Singapore to secure a project related to Beijing’s initiative, and aims to offer transnational educational courses that equip both students and business executives with a better understanding of, and insights into, China’s global trade strategy.

Xiamen University was founded in 1921 as the first university in China established by an overseas Chinese. It now falls under direct administration of the Chinese Ministry of Education and has gained national recognition for its teaching of such subjects as journalism, chemistry and economics.

Though LSBF-Singapore lacks Xiamen University’s history, the higher education institute provides further learning to more than 10,000 students from over 20 countries.

The centre’s first belt and road-related programme is expected to begin in January 2018. Separate bilingual degree programmes and pathways facilitated by Xiamen University and LSBF-Singapore start in October.

We need to educate ourselves about the [‘Belt and Road Initiative’] countries and respect their indigenous cultures and religions
Professor Francis Lui, HKUST Business School

In addition to exploring the modern-day Silk Road initiative, the centre hopes to act as a platform where invaluable insights into Chinese cultural nuances, business etiquette and expectations can be explored.

Cross-cultural management will prove crucial as globalised business deals arrive on the doorsteps of emerging markets across the Asian land mass.

In a 2006 article, the scholar Y.L. Li explained that at the heart of intercultural enterprise management lies effective intercultural shock management. Culture shock, according to Li, has three key causes: different values; intercultural communication barriers; and different ways of thinking and working. Raising awareness of these hurdles through training and exposure helps with the transaction of business between two or more culturally diverse entities.

Professor Francis Lui at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology business school is a proponent of cultivating cultural understanding and emphasises that, in taking this approach, parties on all sides need to be aware of differences in culture and values. “We need to educate ourselves about the [‘Belt and Road Initiative’] countries and respect their indigenous cultures and religions.”

Lui would like to see students travel to diverse places, to go beyond those places with which they are familiar, and to consider visiting belt and road nations to broaden their horizons. The business school has conducted several talks in partnership with other research centres on this subject, with a focus on different belt and road nations. So far the talks have considered Beijing’s initiative in relation to Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and Central Asia.

It is not only students that can benefit from gaining further understanding in cultural and value differences.

City University, in partnership with Beijing’s Tsinghua University and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, has established the International PPP Specialist Centre of Excellence for Public Transport Logistics. It offers a 10-day training programme with a focus on PPP (public-private partnership) and Beijing’s initiative three times a year, with the first conducted in June.

The programme is designed for senior government officials and business executives in public sectors and multinational corporations in the China region, and allows participants to meet with UN ambassadors and UN Economic Commission for Europe officials in Geneva, and to examine Western and Eastern cultural values as a component of the training programme.