The University of St Andrews’ Department of Chinese Studies is reportedly strengthening its relations with Taiwan to reinforce its exchange programme for students studying Chinese.
According to an article published by the Daily Mail on Sunday 24 September, Founding Professor of Chinese Studies Gregory Lee commented, “I’ve worked over the last couple of years to make sure we’ve got very strong relations with Taiwan.”
This is reflected in the fact that a Taiwanese Resource Centre for Chinese Studies was established this March in collaboration with the University’s Director of Libraries. Moreover, agreements were signed last year between the University of St Andrews and the National Taiwan University, linking the two as university-level sister schools with both student and teacher exchanges. The Taiwan Huayu Bilingual Exchanges of Selected Talent (BEST) Program was also launched, an initiative already in place with four other partner institutions in the UK — the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, Nottingham Trent University and the School of Oriental and African Studies — and is designed to enhance collaborative language learning programmes, with Taiwanese universities supplying Mandarin language teachers and access to learning resources.
As more concerns emerge regarding Beijing’s influence in British universities over issues including freedom of speech and the protection of intellectual property, a pivot towards closer ties with Taiwan presumably reflects the department’s focus on mitigating the risk of PRC state interference. Previously, the University has been vocal about its determination not to open a Confucius Institute amidst reports that this organisation promulgates Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda and obstructs free speech on campuses.
Sir Alex Younger, the former head of MI6, told BBC Radio 4 on 11 September that China’s scope of intelligence activity was “far broader” than is generally understood in the UK, with its particular emphasis on gaining and exerting various forms of “influence”.
In the same Daily Mail article, Professor Lee was quoted as saying, “‘At the moment, all our students going abroad [are] to go to Taiwan.”
He added, “That’s what we’re trying to do, not necessarily for political reasons but because at least you can send people to a relatively safe and stable place where they’re not going to be subject to this.”
No one from the school of Chinese Studies was available for an interview. However, a University spokesperson said: “There has been no change in University policy, the report in the Mail is inaccurate. Our students can and do undertake exchanges in mainland China. We have a longstanding exchange arrangement with Renmin University, as well as Beijing National University. Students can also undertake exchanges in Taiwan.”
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