Ds Scholarship

Taiwan should lead with kindness

  • By Fernando Herrera Ramos

The government’s reaction by withdrawing its economic and technical aid from any country that decides to switch relations from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is entirely understandable, but it punishes scholarship students for decisions their governments made the right thing to do. ?

Taiwan taxpayers cannot be asked to continue to support cooperation projects in countries that have chosen to sever ties with Taiwan. Those countries will surely receive more than sufficient economic incentives from the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

However, withdrawing financial aid from students, who are sometimes under 17 years old when they arrive in Taiwan, may not give them a good impression of the Taiwanese government.

Taiwan has had a long-running dispute with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with each accusing each other of using “dollar diplomacy” to build relations with other countries. By punishing students and withdrawing their financial aid for issues unrelated to academic concerns, the Taiwanese government appears to be falling into the CCP’s narrative.

These students have no voice in the decisions taken by their governments, and as reported in the case of Nicaragua, those who made Taiwan their second home, and wish to continue living and studying there, were abandoned by their embassy.

Numerous reports in the international media have claimed that the elections in Nicaragua recorded the highest abstention rates in the country’s history. With that in mind, can it really be said that this is what the Nicaraguans wanted?

Even if the majority of Nicaraguans support the decision, which does not appear to be the case, scholarships awarded to young students based on their academic performance should not be used as a bargaining chip or as a retaliatory measure against their government.

Furthermore, the academic exchange awarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Scholarship Program is not limited to people from countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. As specifically stated in its general guidelines, “Students from other countries may also be given special consideration,” referring to countries that do not have diplomatic relations.

The International Cooperation Development Fund (ICDF) scholarship is more open about who can apply, as it has an eligibility list of 49 countries, including Russia and South Africa, two countries that do not even discuss establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

If these scholarships are not limited to countries with diplomatic relations, why should students be penalized if their governments decide to make the change?

Many students from the former allied countries fought against the decision of their government, because they wanted to create a new life in Taiwan. Many Panamanian and Salvadoran students decided to stay in Taiwan rather than accept their government’s offer to start a new life in China. Many of them became members of the Taiwanese workforce, footballers or entrepreneurs, or enrolled in new academic programs so that they could continue to live in Taiwan.

Understandably, many people think that withdrawing scholarships from Nicaragua is the right thing to do, but for the many hardworking students and their families who worry about their future, geopolitics isn’t something they can do anything about, something else they wish it wouldn’t be part of the equation.

The decision the State Department is about to make about suspending this aid should also take into account the dreams of all these young students who left everything they knew behind and moved to a country on the other side of the world, a country with a different culture and language.

Taiwan scholarships have helped countless people who left their countries in search of a better education and a better future, and for those who were welcomed on this beautiful island without any political connections to their governments, myself included, the opportunity was truly a life changing experience.

These academic exchanges give students the opportunity to learn more about Taiwan, its history, and people, become ambassadors, and tell others about Taiwanese kindness when they return to their countries.

They are also given the incentive to help Taiwan when they become professionals, whether or not diplomatic relations with their countries are in place.

A good example is Prague Mayor Zdenek Hreb, whose positive experience while participating in the exchange program in Taiwan led him to strengthen the relationship between his city and Taipei.

This was, of course, something the Chinese government did not look at kindly and react to and may be one of the reasons why the EU is now standing up to China’s pressure and boosting interactions with Taiwan.

As a result of this sentiment, the German parliament passed a resolution asking its government to re-evaluate its position on Taiwan and “deepen exchanges” between the two countries.

Prior to that, Lithuania had already opened a Taiwanese representative office in its capital, a sign that Taiwan’s relationship with European countries was going in the right direction.

As for countries with diplomatic relations, many of Taiwan’s allies in Latin America have publicly stated that they intend to continue to stand by the nation. This list includes countries such as Paraguay, Honduras, and Guatemala.

This is undoubtedly good news for Taiwan, but given how uncomfortable the uncertainty can be, the government should be sympathetic to how Nicaraguan students feel.

It is comforting to see that some of the universities hosting these students are willing to step up by offering them assistance with scholarships and part-time job offers, but if Taiwan wants to show that it is different from the Chinese government, leaders must take a step back and reconsider what If letting these students fend for themselves is really the image they want to show the world.

At a time when the government is trying to show the international community that this is a country of principles and values, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that even in the face of adversity, Taiwan will lead with kindness.

Fernando Herrera Ramos is a Honduran lawyer based in Taiwan. Holds a master’s degree in business administration.

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