Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE:Severed ties leave Malawian students in a quandary

DIPLOMATIC DILEMMA Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh said that students should not become collateral damage for the actions of their country

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan's promise not to deport any Malawian students is good news for Michael, but it is not enough to stop him worrying what will happen.

The 25-year-old computer science student, who agreed to only speak using an alias, said not knowing what is going to happen in the future is a big source of his frustration.

"The students were the last ones to be told of the severance [of diplomatic ties]. All I know is that they [the Malawian government] have strongly advised us to transfer to China, but have given us the option to either stay or to leave," he said.

Earlier this month, the southeast African country pulled the plug on its relations with Taiwan when it announced it dumped Taipei in order to recognize Beijing. Reports suggested the new allegiance came with a price tag of US$6 billion, an amount that Taiwan was unable and unwilling to match.

On the evening when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced the news, ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh (葉非比) said that, despite the change in the political relations between the two countries, Malawian students studying in Taiwan were welcome to continue their education here.

Yeh said that when Costa Rica severed ties with Taiwan last June, Taiwan also extended the same courtesy to Costa Rican students.

The notable difference, however, was that upon hearing the news that MOFA would not retract the scholarships nor evict the students, the Costa Ricans publicly thanked the Taiwanese government.

A handful of students even marched to the Presidential Office in the pouring rain, holding up "I am sorry" signs and the Republic of China flag to show their disdain for their country's "betrayal" of Taiwan.

Malawian students, on the other hand, have not expressed their views on the abrupt break-up. In fact, out of the two dozen Malawian students studying in Taiwan, only one has agreed to talk to the press.

"Maybe it is just the difference in personality. We are grateful to Taiwan for allowing us to stay, but Malawians just don't speak about our feelings too much," Michael said.

Michael is one of just three recipients of the "Taiwan Scholarship," which is run by MOFA and the Ministry of Education. Recipients have their tuition paid in full and also receive a monthly stipend.

Last week, the Chinese ambassador to Uganda said in addition to taking over infrastructure projects that Taiwan had started in Malawi, Beijing was planning to uproot and relocate all 26 Malawian students currently studying in Taiwan.

"Of course many Malawian students want to stay, but some also think going to Beijing is not a bad idea," Michael said.

He said students who are close to graduation or have established a tight social network feel it would be a waste of time to move to Beijing, especially when it was uncertain whether Chinese universities would recognize the credits they earned in Taiwan.

Another reason why students are reluctant to transfer, he said, was because they would face six months of forced respite before they were able to enroll in the next semester in September.

However, some students think leaving Taiwan would be the wise move in the run long because "who knows if the Taiwanese government will continue to be friendly to Malawian students," especially with a new legislature being convened and the upcoming presidential election in March.

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