Filipino universities defend presence of Chinese students

Military is investigating whether international students in province adjacent to Taiwan pose national security risk

April 19, 2024
Aerial of the wharf and seaport of the town of Sual
Source: iStock/Michael Edwards

Universities in the Philippines have defended international students after politicians called for an investigation into the “influx” of Chinese nationals in a region adjacent to Taiwan.

Two senators are seeking an inquiry into an alleged increase in the number of Chinese students studying in the Philippines’ Cagayan province, an area north of Manila that borders disputed maritime territory.

Speaking to local reporters, congressman Joseph Lara said the students posed a national security risk as tensions mount between the Philippines and China, following a long-standing dispute over control of the South China Sea.

The Philippines’ military has now agreed to investigate the presence of Chinese nationals in the area, but institutions in the region have described the claims as “baseless” and “deeply offensive”.

In a joint statement, four universities from Cagayan province said there were 486 international students in total at one private university, and none at any of the other public institutions in the region, contradicting initial media reports that suggested there were nearly 5,000 Chinese students present.

Writing on social media, representatives from the universities said the accusations were “not only baseless but also deeply offensive”.

“It is a blatant display of racism and sinophobia that has no place in our society, especially within the realm of education,” they wrote, adding that the institutions adhered to “stringent admissions criteria”.

“The suggestion that Chinese students may be involved in espionage is not only unfounded but also reflects a dangerous stereotype that unfairly targets an entire group of individuals based on their nationality.”

They went on to criticise a claim reported in local media that students were paying up to two million Philippine pesos (£28,000) to obtain their degrees, with some rarely turning up to classes. “The insinuation that Cagayan universities are diploma mills is not only insulting, but may also be libellous,” they said.

China also hit back at the reports, accusing politicians of “hyping up” maritime issues “to serve their political agenda and self-interest and undermine China-Philippines cooperation”, comparing the situation to McCarthyism.

In a statement, China’s embassy in the Philippines said: “The unfounded accusation of our educational exchanges is yet another malicious sleight of hand to incite suspicion and hatred of China. This deserves high vigilance and must be resolutely opposed.”

The Philippines has attempted to internationalise its higher education sector in recent years, with an estimated 22,000 overseas students in the country in 2022. The Chinese embassy said educational exchanges between the two countries had been “growing fast”, supporting “a deeper mutual understanding between our two peoples”.

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