Taiwan mayor looks to fill seats

February 17, 2006

Taiwan should consider allowing high-school graduates from mainland China to study in its universities and colleges, the Nationalist Party Kuomintang chairman Ma Ying-jeou has suggested, Michael Delaney writes.

Mr Ma, who is also the mayor of Taipei and is thought likely to be the party's presidential candidate in 2008, told Taiwan's news agency that allowing mainland students to study in Taiwanese universities would enable them to better understand Taiwan and would be conducive to peace across the Taiwan Strait.

Mr Ma also said his proposal would help Taiwan's 160 universities and colleges, which have been struggling to fill their classrooms. He noted that a growing number of Taiwanese students were pursuing higher education on the Chinese mainland each year.

He said the policy of exclusion needed to be changed because "it will not do any good for Taiwan".

According to China, more than 5,000 Taiwanese students are studying in mainland universities and colleges, while an estimated 12,000 have graduated so far.

The mainland is unlikely to offer active encouragement. But there would be great public relations value in the proposal if it meant that the KMT's opponents in the independence-minded pan-Green Coalition could be labelled "anti-Chinese".

Despite fighting against the Communists in the civil war, the KMT, which has a pro-unification agenda, is seen in a much more positive light than its Democratic Progressive Party rivals by mainland authorities and state media.

Pan-Green parties will find it hard to argue against the move without angering China. Objections, such as allegations of espionage by Chinese students, are likely to be raised. But mainland students could bring some of the fruits of China's booming economy to Taiwan.

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