China’s ‘Dollar Diplomacy’: Generous Student Scholarships for Countries Participating in Belt and Road

November 5, 2020 Updated: November 5, 2020

In recent years, the Chinese communist regime has been aggressively pushing “dollar diplomacy” in countries participating in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—Beijing’s grand foreign policy project that the Council on Foreign Relations has cautioned might be a “Trojan horse” for China-led regional development, military expansion, and Beijing-controlled institutions.

Its “dollar diplomacy” has seen various grants and scholarships established for international students from BRI countries to study in China. Internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents obtained by The Epoch Times have confirmed that the CCP has directed huge sums of money to attracting foreign students, particularly from these countries, to study in China.

According to Chinese state media reports, the CCP spent 3.32 billion yuan ($475 million) in 2018 on various scholarships for more than half a million foreign students to study in China. More than half of those students came from 64 BRI-participating countries.

By contrast, according to data from the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund, around 3 million children in China—most from impoverished areas—could not afford to attend school in 2018.

‘Special Silk Road Scholarship’

The Chinese regime established the “Special Silk Road Scholarship” exclusively for students from BRI-participating countries.

Local governments are required to set up the scholarship fund to support Beijing’s BRI policy through educational offerings.

According to leaked documents from Gansu Province—one of China’s most poverty-stricken provinces—millions of yuan have been allocated to schools as generous “Special Silk Road Scholarships” for luring foreign students that are considered strategically important for the CCP as it works to expand its global influence. The “Special Silk Road Scholarships” are just one of many scholarships supported by the CCP for such purposes.

An internal local government document titled “Gansu Province Silk Road Special Scholarship Management Measures.” (Screenshot) 

To attract foreigners to study at Gansu universities, the scholarship includes 12,000 yuan ($1,800) a year for living expenses and 5,000 yuan ($750) a year in tuition aid for graduate students. Undergraduate and vocational students receive 3,000 yuan ($450) a year in tuition aid. The scholarships are more than the 9,600 yuan ($1,390) average annual income that farmers earn in Gansu province. The average annual income in urban areas of the province is 32,300 yuan ($4,680).

The documents also revealed that Northwest Normal University in Gansu hosted as many as 15 foreign students under the award, with seven students from Kyrgyzstan, three from Uzbekistan, and five from Kazakhstan—all BRI participating countries in central Asia that the CCP sees as strategically important.

Another document summarizing the Gansu Province Department of Education’s efforts to promote the BRI revealed that 5.1 million yuan ($770,000) had been allocated in 2020 toward “Special Silk Road Scholarships” for 360 international students from BRI-participating countries.

Lenient Scholarship Criteria

According to an annual report document for “Confucius Institute Scholarship Students at Northwest Normal University” issued in June 2020, the aforementioned school was also exceptionally lenient in its criteria for awarding its scholarships to foreign students. China’s Confucius Institutes are run by the CCP’s Hanban governmental office; the institutes have recently drawn scrutiny in the West for their role in promoting and spreading CCP propaganda under the guise of Chinese language and culture classes.

According to the documents, one of the criteria for the scholarship is an attendance rate above 70 percent. However, a Sudanese student majoring in Teaching Chinese as Second Language at the university who had not attended any classes during the spring semester was still recommended for a partial scholarship for the second half of 2020.

Epoch Times Photo
An annual review report for “Confucius Institute Scholarship Students at Northwest Normal University.” (Screenshot)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the student had returned home to Sudan in January and didn’t return to Northwest Normal University. With no computer or internet at home, she had missed all the semester’s online courses. She also couldn’t take the required Chinese Proficiency Test in May.

Sudan was one of the first countries to sign a BRI agreement with the CCP and has since received a lot of investment for infrastructure projects.

Gu Qing’er contributed to this report.