Harvard moves summer programme from Beijing to Taipei

Harvard will move its Chinese language programme from Beijing Language and Culture University to National Taiwan University. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Harvard University's Chinese language programme 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 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 programme decided to move because of a "perceived lack of friendliness" from Beijing Language and Culture University, programme 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 dormitories, Professor Liu said, speculating that the change was due to shifting attitudes towards the United States under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A representative for Beijing Language and Culture University disputed Prof Liu's account and warned that such statements could harm people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

The university fully supported efforts by Harvard Beijing 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 Beijing Language and Culture University's website.

The programme was suspended last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Beijing Language and Culture University representative said.

Many joint education programmes remain between the two countries, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang told a regular news briefing on Wednesday (Oct 13) in Beijing, adding that one institution relocating was "nothing to hype".

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 programme's departure 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 programme for university students relocated from Beijing to Taipei in 2019, partly due to political tensions according to media reports.

Professor William Kirby, chairman of the Harvard Centre Shanghai, told the Harvard Crimson that most organisations affiliated with the school were not relocating and said the Harvard Beijing Academy's move to Taiwan was for "purely logistical reasons".

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Joanne Ou praised the decision, welcoming "Harvard's best and brightest to study Mandarin" in Taipei.

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