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Middle East embraces Mandarin learning in geopolitical shift

The move comes as part of a broader effort to strengthen ties with Beijing. AFP/Representational pic)
  • Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab country in the Middle East, recently mandated Mandarin lessons in all public and private secondary schools, according to Saudi Gazette
  • The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf state to include Mandarin in its national education system, launching a Chinese language program in schools in 2019

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Middle Eastern countries are increasingly embracing the Mandarin language, extending China’s soft power influence in the region. While interest in learning Mandarin has declined in the West, Middle Eastern nations are mandating Chinese language education in their schools, , a report in South China Morning Post said. 

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab country in the Middle East, recently mandated Mandarin lessons in all public and private secondary schools, according to Saudi Gazette. 

The move comes as part of a broader effort to strengthen ties with Beijing. The decision follows a 2019 agreement made during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Beijing, which included incorporating Mandarin lessons at all levels of the curriculum, including universities.

The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf state to include Mandarin in its national education system, with the help of Beijing, launching a Chinese language program in schools in 2019.

Egypt and Iran have also made strides in Mandarin language education, signing agreements with China to introduce Mandarin as an elective subject in schools. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi endorsed a law adding Mandarin to the list of foreign languages taught in middle and high schools.

China’s increasing influence in the Middle East is evident through diplomatic initiatives and peace efforts. The region has become a focal point for China’s soft power strategies, especially as its relations with the West, particularly the US, have faced challenges.

However, there are challenges ahead for Mandarin language education in the Middle East. The shortage of qualified Chinese language teachers and budget constraints in some schools make it challenging to offer language programs to all students. Additionally, Mandarin is considered a difficult language to master, and China’s cultural differences pose challenges to Middle Eastern learners.

While the Middle East’s embrace of Mandarin signals a significant shift in the region’s geopolitical landscape, the extent to which Mandarin takes root and becomes a widely spoken language remains to be seen.