Taiwanese can fill gap left by closing Confucius Institutes: AIT

01/16/2021 05:45 PM
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AIT Director Brent Christensen. CNA photo Jan. 16, 2021
AIT Director Brent Christensen. CNA photo Jan. 16, 2021

Taipei, Jan. 16 (CNA) As many American universities shutter their Confucius Institutes amid scrutiny over their ties to the Chinese government, "now is the time" for the United States and Taiwan to deepen their cooperation in education, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen said Saturday.

In a speech delivered under a new bilateral education initiative, Christensen said the U.S. and Taiwan have always maintained close academic ties, but the closure of the Chinese-language programs run by the institutes offers a unique opportunity to boost that relationship.

The Confucius Institutes -- which promote Chinese language and culture with funding from the Chinese government -- have come under pressure in the U.S. since a 2018 law forced schools to choose between keeping the institutes open or losing Defense Department funding for their foreign language programs.

By last August, when the State Department designated the program's Washington D.C. headquarters as a "foreign mission" of the Chinese government, the number of institutes operating in the U.S. had dropped from over 100 to 75.

In light of these closings, Christensen said, "now is the time for Taiwan to step forward and fill this gap -- not only to teach Mandarin and learn English, but to more fully tell Taiwan's story to American students."

"And what a great story Taiwan has to tell -- a story about how the hard work, sacrifice and dedication of the people of Taiwan has led to a thriving democracy, a robust economy, a highly educated and skilled workforce, and ... the most effective response to COVID-19 of perhaps any place in the world," he said.

Christensen also addressed a group of around 60 young Taiwanese in the audience, who will soon travel to the U.S. to teach Chinese under the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program (FLTA).

As teachers in the U.S., these teaching assistants will not only have the opportunity to teach Chinese, but also to "tell a different version of history than the one that is taught at Confucius Centers," he said.

According to Christensen, the AIT has been working to spread information about educational opportunities in Taiwan through the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S.-Taiwan Talent Circulation Alliance website.

The Fulbright program also operates its own English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) program in Taiwan, through which 145 recent American graduates are currently teaching in classrooms across the island, according to an AIT Facebook post on Friday.

Saturday's event, a symposium on teaching Chinese as a second language, was the first activity held under a new United States-Taiwan Education Initiative the two sides signed in December.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Matthew Mazzetta)

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