Training days

China is educating engineers around the world

Its technical schools are less controversial than its Confucius Institutes

CHINESE OFFICIALS often talk of the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure building spree, in hyperbolic terms. On October 17th and 18th Xi Jinping, China’s leader, hosted a big summit in Beijing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of what the government likes to call the “project of the century”. Lately this hype has masked an awkward reality. Since 2020 China has scaled back the scheme as governments have found it harder to repay Chinese infrastructure loans.

Yet in recent years one part of the project has stood out as a quiet success. Since 2016 China has set up some 27 vocational colleges in two dozen countries, mostly poorer ones. These “Luban Workshops” (named after a fabled carpenter from the fifth century BC) have trained thousands of students in fields including artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, railway operations and robotics. One of the newest workshops opened on September 4th at Meru University of Science and Technology in Kenya.

The purpose is not charity. Luban workshops promote technology and standards that China wants to export to developing countries. Gear for the new workshop in Kenya will come from…