Starting in the fall, 73 private universities and vocational institutions in Taiwan will open their doors to about 2,000 Chinese students. If everything goes smoothly, the nation’s 50 public universities could also be opened to Chinese students from next March.
According to reports, about 1,000 Chinese students, including about 20 from Beijing, have applied since April 1, with the application period closing at the end of this month.
Interestingly, it takes more than good grades and curiosity for a Chinese student to be allowed to cross the Taiwan Strait. One, it seems, must also qualify for what is known as a “high political awareness certificate.”
This certificate does not constitute proof of an individual’s knowledge of major political events or world capitals, but is rather an instrument to ensure students (and their families) have an ideological background agreeable to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
What this means for Taiwan is that only fully indoctrinated students will be allowed to come here, greatly reducing the chance that their experiences in Taiwan will generate the kind of dialogue and understanding proponents of the program have suggested would develop as a result. The near certainty that Chinese students will retain their preconceived views on Taiwan is compounded by the fact that at present, the Taiwanese government will only give them a six-month student visa, meaning that any student who wishes to study for longer must return to China and reapply.
There should be no doubt, either, that despite the cultural and geographical proximity, China’s very best young minds or the children of senior party members will not be coming to Taiwan. They will continue to go to Europe and the US, whose diplomas have a higher market value.
What Taiwan will end up with, therefore, are mostly second-tier students who nevertheless toe the party line, students who are unlikely to be able to make any meaningful contribution to Taiwan’s educational environment. This is hardly the way to make Taiwan’s universities more competitive and attractive, both locally and globally. It could, in fact, have the very opposite effect.
Beyond this, highly ideological young minds that refuse to be changed by their new environment are perfect instruments for the state that sends them. Under what looks strangely like a reward-payback mechanism — whereby the state rewards “good” party members by sending them abroad while expecting something in return — we can assume that some of the 2,000 or so Chinese students who will enter our schools in the fall will be collecting information for the Chinese government. In other words, they will be doing exactly what Soviet students were doing during the Cold War.
It is interesting that whenever Beijing accuses those in the US or Taiwan who call for cautious engagement of overreacting to China’s rise, it often points to the other side’s “Cold War” mentality. Ironically, by using devices such as the “high political awareness certificates” for the dispatch of students in a time of alleged peacemaking, it is Beijing that cannot seem to let go of practices that fell out of favor decades ago.
On many fronts, China is still fighting a Cold War, and the proximate battlefield is Taiwan. Soldiers, diplomats and spies, investors and businesspeople, are all expected to play their part in this grand ideological battle. Students too, it would seem.