THE official visit to China by the Minister of Education and Culture of Uruguay, María Julia Muñoz, between April 15 and 24, reaffirmed the intentions of the Latin American country to continue expanding its ties with the Asian country. “We continue with the promise made by our president that Uruguayan children, through Plan Ceibal, will be able to use a computer to learn Chinese,” Minister Muñoz told China Today. The proposal by Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez aims to incorporate the Chinese language through an online platform that Uruguayan schools currently use and to support teachers of other Latin American countries in an effort to spread the Chinese language.
María Julia Muñoz, Minister of Education and Culture of Uruguay, and her delegation during a visit to the Hanban headquarters in Beijing.
Photos courtesy of the Embassy of Uruguay in China
“We met with the authorities of the Confucius Institutes (Hanban) to help us find ways to didactically incorporate the language so that the teachers can start teaching as soon as possible,” said Muñoz.Uruguay’s global leadership push to include Chinese in primary education will allow China to see how well foreign children assimilate the language. Currently, there is great demand for learning Chinese in Uruguay. Among the immediate plans, Muñoz highlighted the upcoming visit to China by a group of Uruguayan children. “We are going to send elementary school students during their winter break to study at an institute of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. We think it will be interesting for the children and informative for the teachers.”
Study and Research
The inauguration of the Center for Uruguayan Studies on April 24, the first of its kind in China, has been an unquestionable advance for understanding between both nations. Dedicated mainly to the study and research of Sino-Uruguayan relations, politics, economy, culture, tourism, and foreign relations of the Latin American country, the Center is based at the Beijing Jiaotong University.
Maria Julia Muñoz, Minister of Education and Culture of Uruguay (center), Jing Wei, deputy director of Hanban (right), and Fernando Lugris, Uruguay’s ambassador to China, meet at the Hanban headquarters.
This university has a history of more than 120 years. It was one of the first institutions of higher education in China to offer classes related to the transport sector and has established study centers on high-speed trains in countries such as Russia, the U.K., the U.S., and Indonesia. “The inauguration of the center is a very important step in developing the strategic partnership between the two countries,” said the Uruguayan Minister of Education and Culture.
Lan Hu, deputy director of the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, stressed that the creation of the center is the new fruit borne of cultural exchanges that also reflect the increasingly close relations of China and Uruguay. For his part, Ning Bin, President of Beijing Jiaotong University, valued the foundation of the center as an opportunity to collaborate, build platforms, and share resources that will help strengthen links in education and transport.
“The mission of our center is to convert the thousands of kilometers that separate the two countries into thousands of ties that link the two peoples,” director of the Center for Uruguayan Studies Yan Xuedong said. “We hope to build a friendly and comprehensive bridge in the framework of international cooperation of the Belt and Road.”
An Unprecedented Journey
Minister Muñoz highlighted the increased number of scholarships and opportunities that are available for Uruguayans who plan to study in China. This is her second visit to the Asian country, the first was 20 years ago and the changes she has noticed have been quite stark. “China has completely transformed. We visited the CGTN television channel (China Global Television Network) and it is magnificent. I was on China Radio International, where Laura Olivera interviewed us, a Uruguayan journalist who has been working in China for a long time.”
The signing of an agreement for the establishment of a cultural center of China in Uruguay opens up new opportunities for exchanges and collaborations. “We have signed an agreement to facilitate the establishment of a Chinese cultural center in our country to raise awareness of Chinese culture. We hope this year the Chinese president will come to Uruguay and that more exchanges of artists and students from both countries will take place.”
The inauguration of the exhibition “Uruguay in Guaraní: Art and Crafts from the 16th Century to the 21st Century”, on April 20 at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) was loved by those who attended. “The exhibition, as an important event of the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Uruguay, has had a wide social attraction,” said Wu Weishan, director of NAMOC.
The inauguration of the Center for Uruguayan Studies, the first of its kind in China, is an unquestionable advance for the understanding between China and Uruguay.
The 158 works that make up the exhibition include woodcarvings, handicrafts, and artwork belonging to museums, private collections, national institutions, artists, and members of the Mbyá-Guaraní communities. “We are pleased to bring to the Chinese public part of the history of our origins and we hope that NAMOC can be present in Uruguay to show the fine arts of China, long awaited by the Uruguayan public,” said the Uruguayan ambassador to China, Fernando Lugris.
The NAMOC, the Museum of Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art of Uruguay (MAPI), and the Embassy of Uruguay in China sponsored the exhibition. Facundo de Almeida, director of MAPI, stressed that the exhibition is only the beginning of cultural communication that will continue with a presentation in Montevideo that will share Chinese culture with the public.
Long-term Cultural Connection
The governments of China and Uruguay look favorably on the frequent and active cultural exchanges over recent years. Such is the passion for the Chinese language in the Latin American country that Minister Muñoz recognizes that there are many more activities and lectures that the Confucius Institute would like to host but hasn’t been able to due to handling the current demand of its students. To alleviate this, the Uruguayan authorities hope to have the support of China to open Confucius Institutes in other provinces throughout the country. Together with university students, many Uruguayan businessmen have also been very interested in learning Chinese. According to the Xinhua news agency, since 2012 China has been the largest trading partner of Uruguay and the volume of bilateral trade reached US $4.8 billion in 2017, almost 40 times that registered in 1988, the year in which diplomatic ties between the two nations began.
During her official visit to China, Minister Muñoz inaugurated the headquarters of the Uruguayan diplomatic legation in Beijing, the Tatú-Mulita Cultural Center (name of indigenous animals of Uruguay) and the Lacy Duarte Space. “Duarte was a very beloved artist in Uruguay, a woman who was born to a poor home and who, using Chinese paper sent to her from China, began to draw pictures in which she portrayed the situation of the poor in Uruguay,” Muñoz recalled. The hope is that this space will be used by Uruguayan artists and entrepreneurs to promote their country and allow the meeting between both countries.
During her activity-filled days spent in Beijing, the minister signed two memoranda of understanding with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The first is dedicated to cooperation in science, technology, and innovation in areas of common interest. The second agrees to open a Chinese cultural center in Uruguay. The latter recognizes the important cooperation agreements signed since the establishment of the strategic partnership, which demonstrates the excellent state of current cultural relations between both countries. Muñoz also visited the Jintai Art Museum and made a floral offering before the bust of the Uruguayan hero José Artigas, inaugurated by President Tabaré Vázquez in October 2016.
“We want the National Ballet of Sodre to arrive in China, under the direction of maestro Igor Yebra,” said the Minister of Education and Culture of Uruguay. She mentioned her country’s interest in having more books by national authors translated and published in China, and vice-versa.
The seeds of friendship between Uruguay and China have begun to bear fruit. After 30 years of exchanges and mutual respect, the desire to perfect and improve with each step grows. The governments of both nations agree with the vision of the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: “There is a unique place where yesterday and today meet, recognize, and embrace each other. That place is tomorrow.”