Monday, August 13, 2012

Are Chinese ‘professional students’ monitoring Taiwan’s campuses?

Students from NTU celebrate their graduation
Young Chinese students seem to like their experience in Taiwan. But there are signs that the CCP is spying on them to make sure they don’t learn ‘too much’ 

When the government announced a few years ago that it would open Taiwan’s universities to Chinese students, it had more than dropping university enrolment and the world’s lowest birth rate in mind — it also hoped to enhance sympathy for Taiwan among the future political leaders of China. 

With about 1,000 Chinese undergraduate and graduate students having just completed their first academic year in Taiwan, the signs are for the most part encouraging. A report in the New York Times last month was replete with quotes of Chinese students’ laudatory comments about the kindness of Taiwanese, the less rigid educational system and political openness. A number of them candidly admitted they had paid close attention to the Jan. 14 presidential election, or had looked up information about the Tiananmen Massacre and the Cultural Revolution on the Web that is unavailable to them on China’s heavily censored Internet. 

Some, who did not even request anonymity, went further, saying they felt it was their responsibility to bring back what they had learned in Taiwan to help change their country. 

This is all promising, were it not for one thing: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not want political change to occur in China, as its leaders firmly believe that the party alone has the legitimacy and ability to guide China’s development toward a bright future. To keep tabs on potentially troublesome returnees, China appears to be relying on what are known as ‘professional students.’ 

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Michael Fagan said...

Perhaps the snitches wouldn't be so keen if one or two of them accidentally ran into a wall or two.

Eisel Mazard said...

I enjoyed the article, and it provides people with an opportunity to discuss an issue that (almost) everyone knows about, but (almost) nobody ever deals with directly.

In the old days, the people who were reporting for the Chinese were still passionate enough to stand up and make embarrassing statements during the question period at academic conferences (etc.). I suppose that went out of style with Communism itself.

This game has been going on for decades --and the main change in it is (1) generational, and (2) the replacement of professionals with amateurs.

The word "spy" is misleading; we're not talking about Katrina Leung here.

Although professional intelligence services get a bad reputation (for obvious reasons) it can be quite a bit more scary when you see the same institutional role put into the hands of amateurs, who are selected through cronyism (i.e., somebody making a cellphone call to someone's relative, on the assumption that they can be trusted, etc.).

The "spies" we're talking about have generally have less education in politics than bank tellers have had in economics; and the results will be disastrous (do they even understand what they're reporting?).

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Not surprising at all...

In case you have not seen it, Here is a related news development in Canada (just read up today on Cananda - Huff Post):

Xinhua News Agency got exposed - for trying to recruit a Canadian journalist to spy on the Dalai Lama, and Falun Gong activities.

Jason in Taipei

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks. A friend in Canada alterted me to this earlier today. Funny thing is, about a year ago, when the Bob Dechert scandal was making headlines, the same Canadian journalist was accusing ex-CSIS officers — people like me — of spreading "anti-China" propaganda. Took him about a year to come round. Not bad.