China's Minister of Education Zhou Ji and ambassador to South Korea Li Bin attended the opening ceremony of the first overseas Confucius Institute on Sunday.
Zhou said the Confucius Institute is the first Chinese government sponsored language school to open in a foreign country. His administration will support the institute's operations to promote Chinese language studies in South Korea, he stated.
South Korea is the largest source of overseas students in China and vice versa.
Zhang Guoqiang, deputy director of National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL) -- the institute's primary sponsor -- said that the opening of the school is part of the effort to expand Chinese language studies in foreign countries.
In collaboration with foreign universities and educational organizations, the NOCFL plans to open more Confucius Institute branches around the world. Agreements have already been signed with the United States, Sweden, Uzbekistan and South Africa.
Zhang noted that such institutes conform to international trends, citing Germany's Goethe Institute, France's Alliance Francaise and Spain's Instituto de Cervantes.
More than 30 million people around the world now are studying Chinese, and the Ministry of Education predicts that the number will reach 100 million in the next five years.
Some 2,300 universities in 85 countries offer Chinese language courses.
The Confucius Institute does not offer courses in Confucian thought.
(China Daily November 23, 2004)