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Bipartisan senators urge US universities to work with Taiwan in replacing Confucius Institutes

Senator Marsha Blackburn urges support for Taiwan, increased bilateral ties

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Signing ceremony for the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, on Dec. 3, 2000 (American Institue in Taiwan photo)

Signing ceremony for the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, on Dec. 3, 2000 (American Institue in Taiwan photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Bipartisan U.S. Senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday (Sept. 26) calling on American universities to support educational cooperation with Taiwan as an alternative to Chinese government-funded education programs, namely Confucius Institutes.

Senator Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Senator Ed Markey introduced the resolution, which urges American higher education institutions to support the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative. Blackburn’s website presents the initiative as “an alternative to China’s propaganda-fueled Confucius Institutes.”

The U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative was launched in December 2020 by the U.S. and Taiwan governments to provide funding and support for Americans to learn Mandarin from Taiwanese teachers based in both the U.S. and Taiwan. It also supports Taiwanese people in learning English.

Chinese government-funded programs teaching Mandarin in the U.S. have faced increasing scrutiny and are gradually winding down. In contrast, stronger U.S.-Taiwan relations offer a way to replace China's controversial Confucius Institute program, per CNA.

Under growing pressure from the U.S. government, the number of Confucius Institutes, which are institutions offering Mandarin language and Chinese culture courses, has decreased significantly. There were over 100 Confucius Institutes in American universities in 2017, but by early 2023, only seven remained.

Confucius Institutes have faced criticism for allegedly restricting discussions on sensitive topics in their classrooms and on campuses. In August 2020, the U.S. government designated the language centers as foreign agents and required them to disclose personnel and funding source information to the U.S. State Department.

In spite of growing concerns about China’s influence at home, administrators at U.S. universities worry that students are missing out on opportunities to learn Mandarin, which remains an important skill in business, politics, and other fields. Reflecting this sentiment, Blackburn said in a press release, “Our institutes of higher learning must be free from China’s grasp while still teaching students about the culture, history, and language, and Taiwan can help fill this critical void.”

She said “Congress should continue doing all we can to support Taiwan and increase ties between our two nations,” adding, “I appreciate Senator Markey joining me in this bipartisan effort.”

Markey was quoted as saying “This resolution reaffirms our nation’s commitment to expanding educational opportunities for people at home and abroad to learn English or Mandarin". "I thank Senator Blackburn for her work to strengthen our friendship with Taiwan, underscored by the languages that we use to communicate with and learn from one another," he added.

Commenting on the educational initiative, Taiwan’s representative to the U.S. Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said "Taiwan can play a key role in providing American students with an open academic environment for learning Mandarin," adding "We will continue to strengthen our cooperation with the U.S. to achieve the goals laid out by the Initiative".

Hsiao was sanctioned by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) in April this year, which accused her of "colluding with the U.S. for independence." The office announced that Hsiao was banned from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macau.