US Looks to Taiwan for Chinese

Sunset on Zhongxiao Road in Taipei

Through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), the U.S. and Taiwan have launched the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, which is aimed at “expanding access to Mandarin and English language instruction, while safeguarding academic freedom.” The move comes after Confucius Institutes have closed across university campuses in America due to concerns that they promote China’s agenda.

To mark the launch, U.S. Deputy Secretary for Education Mitchell Zais joined State Department officials and representatives from AIT at a virtual meeting with Taiwan representatives to identify potential steps that the U.S. and Taiwan could take to meet the growing need for Mandarin teachers in the U.S. and for English instructors in Taiwan.

Taiwan can “play a key role” in addressing interest among U.S. students in learning Mandarin— and should use the opportunity to tout its culture and democracy, Brent Christensen, director of AIT, told Nikkei Asia. “Learning Mandarin from Taiwanese teachers means learning Mandarin in an environment free from censorship or coercion,” he added.

Taiwan plans to be bilingual by 2030 and wants to recruit more native English-speaking teachers, which could give U.S. teachers opportunities to teach abroad. American states and school districts will have the opportunity to expand existing educational partnerships or develop new ones to meet the growing demand for Mandarin instructors. Indiana already has an agreement with Taiwan to bring Mandarin teachers into its schools.

The benefits of the partnership extend to postsecondary education. For example, National Taiwan University signed an agreement to partner with the Partners Discovery  Institute, an education and research center led by the University of Illinois System, while Stanford University has agreements with Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology to bring top Taiwan scholars to Stanford to conduct research.

Postsecondary institutions can also apply for the Department’s Title VI and Fulbright-Hays grants to increase language instruction or cultural experiences in Taiwan, including Language Resource Center, National Resource Center, and the Foreign Language and Area Studies programs.

The recent meeting also provided an opportunity for the AIT and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), focusing on strengthening cooperation and collaboration on international education, especially language education.

As Deputy Secretary Zais explained, “Students who speak several languages have an advantage in many aspects of their careers and lives.  I am confident our partnership can help more students gain these important skills—on Taiwan and in the U.S.”

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In 2018, Congress passed a spending bill that cut Department of Defense funding for Chinese language programs at universities that host Confucius Institutes, which caused many to close, although over 50 U.S. universities still host them.

In August 2020, Mike Pompeo, then secretary of state, called the institutes “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign.”

The U.S. also ended its Fulbright exchange program last year in China and Hong Kong, leading to a surge of interest in Taiwan’s Fulbright program—along with an increase in U.S. funding.

Up to 60 Taiwanese teaching assistants will teach Chinese at U.S. host universities in the 2021-2022 academic year, up from 39 placements in 2020 and 25 in 2019, according to Lisa Lin, the program’s director at Fulbright Taiwan.

The number of U.S. applicants for all Fulbright Taiwan programs has doubled from 2018 to 2021.


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