TAIPEI, Taiwan—U.S. de-facto ambassador to Taiwan said on Jan. 16 that people should turn to Taiwan to learn the Chinese language instead of mainland China. He especially warned about the language programs offered by Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes (CIs) on U.S. college campuses.
William Brent Christensen, the Taipei office director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which is the de-facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan, made the remarks at a local Chinese language symposium. The event was part of the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative the two sides launched in December last year.
“We have all read news stories about the closing of many of the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] Confucius Centers in the U.S. Now is the time for Taiwan to step forward and help fill this gap—not only to teach Mandarin and learn English, but to more fully tell Taiwan’s story to their American students,” said Christensen in a speech given in Mandarin Chinese, according to a translation provided by the AIT.
He added: “[Y]ou have the opportunity to introduce Taiwan—its people and its welcoming culture—and to tell a different version of history than the one that is taught at Confucius Centers...there is no better place to learn Chinese than here,” Christensen concluded.
CIs have come under increasing scrutiny by U.S. officials over concerns that they spread Chinese propaganda, restrict academic freedom, and facilitate espionage in U.S. classrooms. In August last year, the State Department designated a Washington-based center that promotes CIs in the United States as a foreign mission.
More than 100 Confucius Institutes have been established at U.S. universities since 2004.
The National Association of Scholars (NAS), an education advocacy group, reported that 54 CIs have closed or are in the processing of closing, as of Sept. 7 last year. At that time, 67 CIs remained open in the United States.
Meanwhile, Taiwan and the United States signed a five-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) to strengthen their cooperation on international education in December last year. Specific areas of collaboration included expanding existing Fulbright programs to send Chinese language teachers from Taiwan to the United States.
Under the MOU, the United States will also promote the availability of Taiwan’s exchange programs to encourage more American students to study on the island.
The U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative in Taipei, launched last December, seeks to enhance Taiwan’s role in providing Mandarin Chinese language instruction to people around the world, including Americans. The initiative also advocates academic freedom, according to the AIT.
The Saturday symposium was attended by Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu; Hsu Szu-chien, deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council; Chen Yuan-tung, minister of Taiwan’s Overseas Community Affairs Council; and Lio Mon-chi, Taiwan’s deputy education minister.
“Many countries have come to realize that the Chinese Communist Party is using Confucius Institutes to infiltrate education systems [around the world], and the [Chinese] schools are a tool for Beijing to expand its influence globally,” Hsu said in remarks at the symposium.
Hsu added that Taiwan’s success in containing the local spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, also made Taiwan the top destination for learning Chinese.
Taiwan, after reporting its first infection case on Jan. 21 last year, has recorded a total of 855 COVID-19 cases, with seven deaths, as of Jan. 17. The island has a population of about 24 million and sits just 80 miles from mainland China.
U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, in a speech at the Washington-based think tank Heritage Foundation on Jan. 14, said the U.S. government first learned about the virus in December 2019, not through China, but through Taiwan’s Economic and Culture Office, the island’s de-facto embassy in the United States.
Beijing hid the outbreak, silencing whistleblower doctors who tried to warn the public about a new pneumonia disease via Chinese social media.
Wu said that the education initiative signed by the two sides will better allow Americans to understand how Taiwan is a valuable U.S. partner, as the two share common values such as freedoms, democracy, and human rights.