Harvard moves summer program from ‘unfriendly’ Beijing to Taipei


Harvard University’s Chinese language program will relocate to Taipei from Beijing, citing a hostile environment in China amid strained diplomatic relations between the world’s two largest economies. 

The Harvard Beijing Academy will leave the Beijing Language and Culture University where it has been since 2005, Harvard Crimson student newspaper wrote. The academy will form a new partnership with National Taiwan University next summer. 

The program decided to move because of a “perceived lack of friendliness” from BLCU, program director Jennifer Liu said, according to the Crimson. That included barring students from holding a Fourth of July party in 2019 and limiting access to classrooms and dorms, Liu said, speculating that the change was due to shifting attitudes toward the US under President Xi Jinping. 

A representative for BLCU disputed Liu’s account and warned that such statements could harm people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. The university fully supported efforts by academy students to use facilities and hold activities on school grounds, the representative said, adding that administrators only responded to a noise complaint about Fourth of July celebrations in 2019.

The academy is a nine-week course jointly set up by the universities to let Ivy League students study local language and culture and “become a messenger of friendship between China and the US,” according to BLCU’s website. The program was suspended last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BLCU representative said. 

Many joint education programs remain between the two countries, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang told a regular news briefing Wednesday in Beijing, adding that one institution relocating was “nothing to hype”. China welcomes foreign students and protects their legitimate rights and interests, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a regular press briefing Wednesday.

The announcement comes as competition intensifies between Beijing and Taipei, and the US ramps up criticism of China’s increased military pressure on the self-ruled island. While Washington and Beijing have been rebuilding communication lines in recent weeks, the program departure’s highlights lingering tensions between the two sides after years of disputes that targeted education among other things.

At least 500 Chinese students have been denied visas to the US under a Trump-era policy that aims to block Beijing from obtaining US technology with possible military uses. A US government-sponsored language program for university students relocated from Beijing to Taipei in 2019, partly due to political tensions according to media reports.   

William Kirby, chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai, told the Harvard Crimson that most organizations affiliated with the school weren’t relocating and said the Harvard Beijing Academy’s move to Taiwan was for “purely logistical reasons.”

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou praised the decision, welcoming “Harvard’s best and brightest to study Mandarin” in Taipei.

 Bloomberg News

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