In the past week, it was revealed that a number of universities have been accepting Chinese students into certain programs after reaching agreements with educational institutions in China that could undermine objectivity and freedom of expression. The “letter of commitment” signed by these universities might also contravene Taiwanese law.
A letter signed by Shih Hsin Univeristy said that course content would not include politically sensitive subjects and would not discuss concepts such as “one China, one Taiwan,” “two Chinas” or Taiwanese independence. National Tsing Hua University was also accused of signing a similar letter and — following a preliminary investigation — more than 150 other institutions have been accused of the same thing.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Ho Hsin-chun (何欣純) said in the legislature on Friday that the word “national” was missing from National Tsing Hua University’s title on the seal stamped on its letter.
Such promises reek of interference from Beijing officials who do not want Chinese students who participate in educational exchanges in Taiwan to be tainted with concepts that do not agree with Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy.
Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said the letters might be in breach of Article 33 of the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例), which states that: “Contractual cooperation between Taiwanese and Chinese universities must comply with regulations, not be driven by political agendas, and must be declared to the ministry beforehand.”
So how widespread is this issue? Shih Hsin University said three universities are involved — Zhejiang University of Media and Communications, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and Jiangsu Normal University — accounting for about 30 to 45 students every semester. These institutions have apparently been demanding these letters since February 2015.
Beijing does not want Chinese students to study in Taiwan. Chinese students are by default young and educated, could see how democracy works while in Taiwan — for all its strengths and weaknesses — and experience living in a free society with uncensored access to media and the ability to express your opinions freely without fear of state retribution. When they return to China, they are likely to share their opinions with their peers.
Should China be concerned? Of course. It is one of the peripheral benefits of having Chinese students study here. However, that is not to say that Beijing has the right to manipulate Taiwan’s universities.
Taiwan would gain from any bottom-up political change in China that could emerge from young Chinese. Beyond the short-term financial gain for universities, this is a major advantage.
The other issue is the propriety of universities complying with the demands of foreign universities. Pan believes it might have contravened the law.
There is also the fundamental question of whether universities should insist on offering all students, wherever they are from, an objective and politically neutral education.
That only a small number of students are involved is irrelevant; it is the principle of the matter. The government should investigate and ensure these worrying beginnings do not lead anywhere more pernicious.
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