Beijing bars students from starting courses in Taiwan amid coronavirus fallout

Lawrence Chung

Beijing will not allow university students from mainland China to start studying in Taiwan for the rest of the year, following Taipei’s temporary ban on students returning to the island amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“In view of the novel coronavirus outbreak and current relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, we have decided to suspend the operation regarding [permission] for mainland graduates of various academic levels to study in Taiwan in 2020,” the mainland’s Ministry of Education said.

“Those who have already studied in Taiwan and want to continue studying there can choose to do so.”

The ministry said Taiwanese students wanting to study on the mainland could also continue to do so.

Many mainland students returned home for the Lunar New Year holiday in January but about 7,000 have not been able to go back to Taiwan since then because of Taipei’s temporary ban on visits by mainlanders to contain the pandemic.

The island’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said on February 3 that a temporary ban on mainland Chinese students returning to Taiwan was necessary to reduce the risk of a local Covid-19 outbreak.

The Education Ministry in Beijing said there was an urgent need to resolve this problem to “uphold the proper rights and benefits” of the students.

Taiwan’s education minister, Pan Wen-chung, has asked universities on the island to come up with flexible measures to safeguard the mainland students’ right to education.

Taiwan offers masks and medical aid to foreign countries, angering Beijing

But with mainland authorities lifting the lockdown of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected, amid an apparent easing in the outbreak, Taiwan has yet to allow mainland students to return to the island to continue their studies.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said various government bodies had put a range of measures into place to help students continue their studies outside Taiwan. These measures included digital learning programmes and online classes.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward territory that must be returned to the mainland fold – by force, if necessary. It has suspended official exchanges with the island since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

But it has allowed private exchanges, including permission for mainland students to study in Taiwan and for the island’s students to study on the mainland.

Taiwan first allowed mainland students to study on the island for academic degrees in 2011, during the administration of president Ma Ying-jeou, from the mainland-friendly Kuomintang.

But since Tsai, who was elected to a second four-year term in January, took office, the number of students has dropped to around 10,000 this year from a high of more than 41,000 in 2015.

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