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Zhang Daojian, Chinese director of the Confucius Institute in Islamabad, speaks with students.Liu Tian / Xinhua
Demand for Chinese classes is surging in Pakistan, and the skyrocketing number of people applying to take language exams has amazed Zhang Daojian, the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute in Islamabad, the capital.
"Last year, the number of people who applied to take Chinese proficiency tests, including the HSK, exceeded 1,000. The number of applicants for the first test this year is 1,209," he said.
Zhang"s institute provides language courses and tests designed specifically for foreign students.
Having arrived in the South Asian country in 2012, the Chinese scholar has witnessed the institute"s rapid development.
Progress has been driven by the enduring friendship between the two countries, and by construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (a series of infrastructure projects), he said.
The growing demand for language tuition is such that the number of students trying to enroll at the institute has soared.
This year, more than 1,000 people applied to study during the first term. However, a shortage of classrooms and teaching materials meant the institute was only able to enroll 300 people, although that"s twice as many as last year.
"That"s why we work closely with agencies on both sides. With luck, they will make their own contribution to the growing demand for Chinese classes," Zhang said.
The economic corridor is also becoming increasingly popular with members of the Pakistani public. The people have shown great motivation, hope and enthusiasm for the corridor since 2015, when President Xi Jinping highlighted the project during a visit to the country, Zhang said.
"Now "CPEC" is almost a catchphrase and a household name. The term can be brought up at any occasion and people recognize it," he said.
"I"m not an expert in the Belt and Road Initiative and the corridor, but so many people ask questions about them that I have to look up materials and check the records to find the correct answers."
Public enthusiasm for the corridor is mainly founded on the opportunities to boost family well-being and national development, and Chinese companies and their employees in Pakistan are major players in the construction of the corridor, Zhang said.
In his opinion, greater cooperation in a number of fields - especially politics, the economy and culture - will prove influential for Pakistan"s economic development and its efforts to eradicate terrorism.
During his time in Islamabad, Zhang has been impressed by the rapid development of the infrastructure.
"When I first came here, Islamabad was less glamorous, but in the last five years we have seen two new shopping malls and new overpasses built," he said.
Zhang suggested that the Chinese and Pakistani embassies should push for policies, such as new visa regulations, to facilitate more exchanges between people from both countries.