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Taiwan Schools, Government Clash over Chinese Students


FILE - Two Chinese university students from Beijing watch military guards at Taipei's Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall exchange their hour-long shift.

Some government officials in Taiwan are unhappy with pro-China political statements by Taiwanese universities.

The government officials believe that such statements are hurting their efforts to reduce the island’s dependence on China.

Taiwanese media say as many as one third of Taiwan’s 152 centers of higher education have prepared statements supportive of China’s political beliefs.

Many of these colleges and universities are private and depend on money from overseas students. They expect that the number of Taiwanese students will fall, so they are trying to persuade Chinese from the mainland to study on the island.

The statements usually promise that mainland students will not be given information suggesting Taiwan and China are separate countries. The statements also promise to block their exposure to information supporting Taiwan’s legal independence from China.

Liao Pei-an works at Taipei’s Shih Hsin University, a private school for students interested in working for news media.

She said: “We are…saying to mainland Chinese students that our curriculum won’t touch on politically sensitive activities and… that we won’t carry out one-China, one-Taiwan, two-Chinas or Taiwan independence activities.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education would not tell VOA how many schools have prepared pro-China statements. But on its website recently, the ministry said exchanges of students should be “equal, win-win as well as respectful of academic freedom.”

China’s Communist leaders say Taiwan is part of the country, yet the island has operated under a separate government since the 1940s. Public opinion surveys show most Taiwanese want their island to remain independent of mainland China. But China says the two sides must someday become one.

Some parents in China fear political differences might cause conflicts between their children and the Taiwanese.

Nathan Liu is a professor at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan. He says universities and government agencies in China that approve study programs in Taiwan may believe they must be more careful because of the island’s current leadership. He says the pro-China statements might be designed to deal with these concerns.

“My guess would be that first, students or family, parents, they believe that Taiwan is not a good place to go,” said Liu. “Number two, schools, the people in charge believe ‘I better play safe. I don’t want to get in trouble if the policy changes...and I still have students in Taiwan.’”

Liao says Shih Hsin University prepared its pro-China statement because some local governments in the mainland needed it before approving study in Taiwan. She added that the school does not place limits on what can be taught to mainland Chinese students.

She said, "Provincial governments also have pressure from their superiors and to let these students go study in Taiwan they might need this document. These are a minority of the provinces.”

The pro-China statements were released after Tsai Ing-wen was sworn-in as Taiwan’s president in May 2016.

Observers say the statements weaken her efforts to lessen Taiwan’s economic dependence on China. She wants to improve economic relations with India and countries in Southeast Asia.

Tsai’s government and officials in Beijing have yet to talk with each other because they cannot agree on whether Taiwan is part of China or a separate nation.

This lack of agreement has angered China. So, some experts believe China is using economic measures to try to weaken Tsai.

The number of short-term university students from China to Taiwan has fallen in recent months. The education ministry said it fell from 34,114 in the 2015 and 2016 school years to 32,648 this year. From 2011 to 2013, the number had doubled.

And the number of mainland Chinese tour groups going to Taiwan dropped about 30 percent between May -- when Tsai took office -- and the end of 2016. Experts blame the decrease on pressure from China.

Tour operators protested against Tsai in September. Experts in Taiwan fear that other businesses dependent on China could also begin protesting if China takes action against them.

Taiwan exported more goods to China than to any other country last year -- $11 billion.

Lai I-chung creates policies on China for Taiwan’s majority party.

He says “(China) wants to put pressure on Taiwanese businessmen. But these businessmen are not representing the interests of Taiwan, just…their own interests.”

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Correspondent Ron Corben reported this story from Bangkok for VOANews.com. John Smith adapted his reporting for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

expose – v. to cause (someone) to experience something or to be influenced or affected by something (+ to)

curriculum – n. the courses that are taught by a school, college, etc.

superior – n. a person of higher rank or status than another

tour – n. a journey through the different parts of a country, region, etc.

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