Stay true to student exchange programmes

Using such schemes to promote espionage – as has been repeatedly alleged – will favour neither mainland China nor Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 2:54pm

Student exchange programmes were once shining proof of warm ties between mainland China and Taiwan. But Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen’s antics have led to their scaling back and relations between the sides have chilled. Claims that mainlanders attending universities on the island are being targeted by domestic spies who use money, love and friendship to extract information threaten such schemes. Cordial cross-strait relations require interaction of ordinary people and circumstances will only worsen unless efforts already made are respected.

Spying has long been rampant on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. But there have been signs of stepped-up espionage amid the souring ties and Beijing has accused Taiwan’s spy agencies of increasing efforts to steal intelligence with the aim of “infiltration” and “sabotage”.

The state broadcaster, CCTV, reported that more than 100 espionage cases had been cracked and images were released of people alleged to be Taiwanese spies who had befriended or seduced visiting mainland students.

The island’s Mainland Affairs Bureau rejected the claims; last year, a student studying in Taiwan was jailed for collecting sensitive information and trying to set up a spy network.

Building cross-strait ties was the impetus for the mainland and Taiwan opening universities to students from their respective sides. Thousands have participated since 2009. Interaction enables people to learn about neighbours, contributing to mutual understanding and creating lasting bonds.

But the independence-minded Tsai has refused to acknowledge the 1992 consensus that there is one China, angering Beijing and causing a freeze in contacts that has led to a reduction of the number of participants in the exchange programme.

Spying serves the purposes of both sides; Beijing is trying to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, while local elections on the island on November 24 will be the first test of Tsai’s government. But when used to undermine exchange programmes, it also harms grass-roots relations. They would do well to reflect on their espionage operations.