TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan legislators have agreed, after a series of brawls, to open university enrolment to Chinese students, bringing the two political rivals another step closer but at a possible risk to the island's economy, officials said Tuesday.
Admission of up to 2,000 top students per year from China, which claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, should help build people-to-people relations after decades of limited contact, the island's Education Ministry said.
But the bill that finally received approval in parliament late Monday, after legislators grabbed one another's arms and necks, following larger brawls over the same issue earlier in the year, could raise the admissions bar locally and send Taiwan students to offshore schools, hurting competitiveness, lawmakers say.
"The Chinese mainland will attract our best students, meaning Taiwan's educational industry will go bankrupt and unemployment will rise," legislator Tsai Huang-lang said.
Huang's opposition party had suggested earlier that the opening to Chinese students would further impact local jobs if it led to a broader recognition of China's educational certificates in Taiwan, local media said.
Much of Taiwan's public is already worried about China's impact on the $390 billion Taiwan economy after the two sides signed a free trade-style deal in June, a potential risk to the China-friendly government in a bellwether local election year.
The new rules, which face two more parliamentary reviews but are unlikely to change course, are expected to draw a massive Chinese applicant pool for the 2011 academic year as China and Taiwan share a language and are just 160 km apart.
An inflow of students would complement recent momentum on both sides since 2008 to open trade links and would advance Beijing's agenda of bringing the two sides closer culturally, part of its long-term goal of political unification.
China has claimed Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary.