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From Egypt and South Africa to Tajikistan.. Why does China train thousands of young people in "Le Pen workshops"?

Translation introduction:

China is opening more technical vocational training workshops in various countries of Central Asia and Africa, known as “Luban” workshops. Why does China want to provide local workers in those countries with professional technical skills? according to “Guy Huang”, a journalist and trainee reporter for “Eurasia Net”, these workshops are part of the framework of the Chinese soft power, as it wants to expand in those areas by training its workers and then employing them in local Chinese projects, which are often considered part of projects China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Translation text:

In the gymnasium of the Technical University of Tajikistan, Chinese workers spent the whole summer installing the latest plumbing and HVAC equipment, and of course the workers from Shandong Dulang Technology (a Chinese company that specializes in technical education equipment) weren’t there to pamper the gymgoers. sports, it showed Video Workers transform the empty hall into a Chinese “luban workshop”, the first of its kind in Central Asia, where future generations of Tajik students will be trained in the latest technologies in ventilation and green energy.

The Chinese Confucius Institutes need not be known, these institutes that are centers of Chinese soft power attached to it hundreds of universities Around the world, it has been accused of undermining academic freedom and has even been likened to a Trojan horse for Chinese influence. In contrast, the Le Pen workshops are the newer and more sophisticated version of the Chinese presence. The workshops, named after an old carpenter who is now highly regarded as the patronizing father of masons, intend to be on the same level as the Confucius Institutes but in technical training. The workshops are designed to help provide labor for projects that are dotted around the world as part of China’s massive infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Since 2016, Le Pen’s workshops have opened in 19 countries, mostly in the southern hemisphere, but also in a number of European countries. The project is being welcomed in host countries in Central Asia as an opportunity to create jobs, but local leaders must overcome local suspicions about China’s intentions, which have been exacerbated by the crises. accumulated debtAnd theviolations The right of the inhabitants of the Chinese province of Xinjiang (whose Muslim Uyghurs have strong ethnic and linguistic ties with the peoples of Central Asia) *. Similarly, some Western think tanks have noted and questioned Le Pen’s workshops, asking whether they are a way to create dependence on Chinese technology exports, and what more economic linkages mean for the sovereignty of Central Asian states.

While workers were installing equipment in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, a professor 8,000 kilometers away was working to expand Luban’s workshop at his university, which opened in 2019, with the aim of awarding a master’s degree in the Internet of Things. Suleiman Patel of Durban University of Technology (DUT), South Africa, speaks with amazing enthusiasm about the workshop he and 5 colleagues attended at Tianjin Technical Institute in China last year. Although the workshop was conducted online (they could not travel due to the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the Covid virus), it was a hands-on experience that Patel describes as unusual in Africa: “There is no substitute for dealing with equipment and equipment directly with your hands, so the fact that we stopped in a laboratory receiving Instructions on how to operate these technological devices and implemented by ourselves, really amazing experience.”

What makes Le Pen unique is that China provides the equipment, while Western countries focus on grants, according to Oludayo Olugbara, executive dean of the College of Computers and Information at the Technical University of Durban. His university has already graduated 300 students who have taken a short technical course through Le Pen workshop, and next year the university will start receiving students to obtain a three-year degree. Before opening Le Pen’s workshop at the university, Olugbara says, “we did not have the equipment for 3D printing,” expressing the extent of the lack of funding that African universities often suffer from.

Luban’s first workshop opened in Thailand 6 years ago. The cooperation between Tianjin Bohai Polytechnic Technical College in China and Ayutthaya Technical College in Thailand was based on specialization in digital transformation and robotics, and then expanded to include high-speed rail technology, which serves the main project of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative, a railway. High-speed at a cost of $ 7 billion (it is supposed to connect the capital, Bangkok, and the border city of Nong Khai with China)*. The workshop trained 1,125 people Chinese official media.

The first “Lupan” workshop in Thailand (Screenshot from YouTube)

Soft power and its hard results

Le Pen’s workshops could be seen as the second phase of the “Belt and Road Initiative” project, which by one estimate has pumped $9 billion into Central Asia since 2013, in everything from roads and ports to mining and energy. China became an exporter of capital for the first time in the middle of the last decade, and at about the same time Chinese companies abroad realized that they did not have enough skilled local labor to run their projects, according to the results of Policy research paper It was recently published and conducted by two researchers at Nanjing University of Science and Information Technology in China.

Beijing quickly intervened and encouraged art institutes to seek foreign partnerships, with the most active area being the thriving coastal region of Tianjin near the capital, Beijing. According to what was stated in the research paper issued in 2021: “Wherever Chinese companies go, our technical training workshops will be held, and we will train skilled workers.” This was also confirmed by Li Lifan, associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, in an interview with Eurasia Net. Levan said, “We need to localize the labor, as it is more expensive if we rely on Chinese labor only.” Levan said that expectations indicate that graduates of Le Pen’s workshops will be employed in Chinese companies, adding: “We encourage students to work for Chinese companies, such as Chinese banks or Huawei, and I think this is in the interest of developing their professional training and technical skills.”

The host countries for Le Pen’s workshop include Egypt, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Portugal and others, according to the report the report Issued by the first “Yanjin” conference on technical education, which was held in mid-August, and soon Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will join this list. The facility at Tajikistan Technical University, which is expected to receive the first batch of students in the coming months, is a partnership with the Tianjin College of Urban Development Management and Technical Technology, which donated equipment and resources at a cost of $1.2 million, according to the Tianji newspaper.n daily“.

Luban, Tajikistan’s workshop will specialize in conducting ground surveys and transporting gas, according to an academic familiar with the program, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have approval from the Tajik Ministry of Education to speak to the press. In Uzbekistan, Luban’s workshop, which will be held at Tashkent State University of Transport, will specialize in logistics and information technology, according to Chinese state mediaWe do not know yet when this workshop will open. These areas correspond closely with the inflows of Chinese capital into the resource-rich region, which includes natural gas. For example, in 2021 Chinese companies invested More than 211 million dollars In Tajikistan, most of it is in mining. Although it created jobs, it struggled with companies criticism For not employing enough locals, especially in senior positions.

Before the opening of Le Pen’s workshop is possible, academics from both the host university and the Chinese sponsor exchange visits to agree on the skills required under the country’s “Belt and Road Initiative” projects, and then the Chinese sponsor provides equipment, instructors, and translators. Participating countries usually initially sign a 3-year contract with their counterparts in Tianjin, and Durban Technical University signed the 3-year offer in 2019, and recently entered into a 5-year project extension.

What China offers and the West does not

Luban Workshop inspires young innovators in Thailand
(Screenshot from YouTube)

Communist Party officials have consistently praised the idea of ​​Le Pen’s workshops in their meetings with officials in Central Asia, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken publicly twice in the past year about such opportunities, addressing regional heads of state. He said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, while receiving his counterparts from Central Asian countries in May 2021, said that China will set up 5 Luban workshops in their region to provide high-tech training. Chinese leaders are not shy about discussing soft power gains for them, but rather openly declaring them. Local workers “who are not fluent in Chinese and do not have special skills will be difficult to hire in a Chinese company, and once they acquire these special skills, their chances of employment will improve,” he says. “.

According to the paper issued by Nanjing University, this interaction between peoples will help foreigners understand Chinese values. In conclusion, the paper quotes the Chinese president’s words: “This would help build something like a community with a shared future for all mankind.” Levan adds that the workshops are also a much more practical step than trying to establish a university, as opening a college or university “requires approvals on a number of levels, and compared to that, it is easier to establish Le Pen workshops.”

Le Pen workshop in South Africa to train African students
Le Pen workshop in South Africa to train African students (Screenshot from YouTube)

It is still too early to know whether Le Pen’s workshops will bear fruit in Central Asia, but the experience in South Africa may be useful in this regard, as Olugbara of the University of Durban believes that Le Pen’s workshop is a gift, but he also realizes that “everything has a price.” And that his students should prepare for the day when Chinese generosity is depleted. Ulugbara does not press graduates to work for Chinese companies, as some work for Amazon and Microsoft, but urges them to be open to acquiring the skills they need to develop local industries. Students will be able to create their own jobs and contribute to the development of society.”

Dirk van der Klee, research fellow at the Australian National University, expected Western policymakers to see the project as one of Beijing’s ways to change the global center of gravity, stressing that many host countries such as Tajikistan “will not care about such criticism, as they need For skilled labor for the country’s economy. Frankly, rich liberal democracies don’t provide much support.” China and America, do you think I will support America? Never, I will look at the person who is already in front of me before thinking of someone who is far away from me.”


This article is translated from Eurasianet It does not necessarily represent the site of Meydan.

Translation: Hadeer Abdel Azim.

Source: Aljazeera

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