In the last decade, East Asian countries have created a variety of education initiatives in partnership with institutions in the United States in an effort to enhance their respective profiles and to help Americans learn about their languages and cultures. The latest initiative comes from the Japanese government, which is giving a $5 million grant to New York’s Columbia University to fund a professor position on Japanese politics and foreign policy.
The government also plans to increase the number of Japanese-language programs and is encouraging more Japanese nationals to study and work in the US. It is all part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new policy to expand and improve Japan’s profile in the US. This comes as two of Japan’s neighbors, China and South Korea, have established active partnerships with US institutions over the past ten years. Japan’s soft-power programs have not yet been as active as those of the other countries, after funding for such ventures was decreased. The government hopes to change this, and has since tripled the budget in 2015 for these types of endeavors.
More than a decade ago, China began opening Confucius Institutes, a state-run education initiative that partners with educational centers based outside of China and is designed to build people-to-people ties through the learning of Chinese culture and language. Today, there are more than 300 institutes in 90 countries and the hope is that the number will reach 1,000 by 2020. In the US alone, there are 97 such institutes with partnerships, ranging from state universities to top-tier private schools. There are also some 357 ‘Confucius classrooms’ for secondary and elementary students across the country. Though there has been some recent controversy around these institutions, they have also facilitated a number of cooperative initiatives that are benefitting both the US and China.
South Korea, meanwhile, began a similar program called the King Sejong Institute, which focuses on teaching the Korean language and culture to people around the world. It has 130 schools in 55 countries around the world and the South Korean government hopes to increase that figure to 200 schools by 2017. In the US, there are eight King Sejong Institutes at places like Auburn University and the University of Iowa. The Korean government has also recently increased the program’s budget in hopes of expanding across the US.
Nate Schlabach is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.