Chinese Language Proficiency In The International Economy: A Matter of National Interest

At the end of the Second World War, access to the US consumer market helped Germany and Japan to recover from the ashes of war via the Marshall Plan.

Soon after, in the wake of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the US extended benefits of access to its capitalist economy to the Asian Tigers – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, to assist their respective economic development.

The same export driven economic development model and access to the huge US market were the reasons for the rapid growth of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, culminating in the rise of the Chinese and Vietnamese economies today.

The huge US consumer market shouldered the responsibility for global economic development and poverty eradication for the past 70 years and the language of international trade and access to technology was, is and will continue (in part) to be emphatically English.

In the shadow of the huge US market, yet another giant consumer market has grown largely unnoticed over the last 2 decades – the Chinese Consumer market which is tipped to exceed the size of the US market this year: see

Both the US and China will be key sources of economic growth and innovation in the coming years.

Like English in the US market, the Chinese language will assume its place in the international economy as an important language of international trade and technology transfer with China.

It is now in the national interest of every country in the world (including Malaysia) to acquire Chinese language proficiency in addition to English, to trade and access technology transfers in the huge consumer markets of the US and China.

Last week, I posted on LinkedIn about my stressful experience speaking at business and international conferences in China using Chinese even though I was not formally educated in the language and could only speak conversational Mandarin: See

Having used English in my work as an international business lawyer for the past 30 years in a global economy dominated by the US and Western countries, using Chinese as a business language never crossed my mind while at law school or during my early years of working life. It is now an urgent and pressing reality.

Increasingly, having dual language proficiency in English and Chinese will be standard operating procedures in hiring management talent in Malaysia and around the globe.

Viewed in its the proper context, the ongoing debate in Malaysia about the New Pakatan Harapan Government’s recognition of the Unified Examination Certicate (UEC), the standardized examination for Chinese independent high schools, as promised in its GE14 Election Manifesto pales into insignificance under the spotlight of national interest. One might even argue it is a dereliction of duty for the new government not to elevate the importance of both Chinese and English language education in the country.

With decades of Chinese education and some 30% of its student population who are Malays, and its continued attraction to parents from other foreign countries who come to Malaysia to educate their children in Chinese, the Chinese independent schools are a source of vitality for Malaysia and a potent secret weapon in the international economy that we would be churlish to ignore and discard.

With a crippling national debt of RM1trillion due to mismanagement of past governments, low crude oil prices and a lack of resources, Malaysia needs to compete with the best in the region. Our strength in Chinese language proficiency alongside English will put us in leading positions in accessing the huge Chinese and US markets.

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