The United States aims to sever ties with Chinese graduate students who are accused of having connections to the People’s Liberation Army. Not everyone is happy about it.
The United States government is considering a plan to ban Chinese graduate students and researchers studying in US universities on the grounds of their alleged ties to China’s military. The visa cancellations would not cover all Chinese students in the US, but a subset, which may later be revised.
The decision is expected to affect anywhere from three to four thousand international students. If the students are in the US, they would be expelled, and if they are in China, they would not be let back into the US to continue their studies.
Chinese students constitute the largest international student body in the United States, a number in the region of 360,000. According to Reuters, they are responsible for generating economic activity to the tune of $14 billion per year in the US, mainly from tuition and other fees.
The New York Times has noted that American universities would probably protest against the move, both because of the prized international exchange to which the students belong, and also because they bring in a large amount of income to the educational institutions in the States.
According to the same article, American universities with Chinese graduate students have been warned previously by the FBI and the Justice Department of, “potential national security threats". The university administrators, however, believe this targeting of Chinese students is unfair, and may provoke racism.
Meanwhile, Republican senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Congressman David Kustoff (R-Tennessee) are introducing a bill called the Secure Campus Act, a “legislation that would prohibit Chinese nationals from receiving visas to the United States for graduate or postgraduate studies in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields”.
"The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States. What's worse is that their efforts exploit gaps in current law. It's time for that to end. The SECURE CAMPUS Act will protect our national security and maintain the integrity of the American research enterprise," said Senator Cotton about the bill.
Some Twitter users criticised the bill, saying it was too broad and that it was promoting xenophobia while holding back scientific exploration in the US.
By contrast, yesterday Sen. Cotton & others proposed a bill that would prohibit any Chinese national from receiving a visa for graduate or post-graduate study in any STEM field. This is a very broad brush approach that would affect a large # of students https://t.co/WZOIJQHzjI— Paul Scharre (@paul_scharre) May 29, 2020
This is foolish. There aren't enough US-born students interested in advanced STEM degrees to sustain the US research enterprise.— Sam Waller (@WallerOne) May 28, 2020
This is just cutting off your racist nose to spite your racist face.https://t.co/vqdWnPPTUz
If your aim is to harm relations, reduce scientific exchange, raise animosity, disaffect smart people who could’ve helped you, and achieve goals other than those intended—all while helping those you call your ‘enemy’—this is a great way to do so.https://t.co/vF9c8e2YFI— 6’ (away) Brunet (@ZeeWillRockYou) May 29, 2020
Chinese graduate students say that the increasing pressure from the Trump administration on Chinese students and researchers, may be held against them. It would mean they would not be able to study at top institutions, apply for grants, or high-ranking jobs in their fields.
American universities say they have taken security precautions against espionage and that exposing Chinese students to Western values and ideals, may prove to be an ideal solution to the dilemma of working with graduate researchers who have had a Communist upbringing. The universities also defend their selection of Chinese graduate students in joining their ranks, as they come highly qualified for educational work and support US research.
According to American officials with knowledge of the discussions quoted in the New York Times, the decision has been in the pipeline for some months. It would be the latest in a series of conflicts between the US and China, with tensions escalating between the two superpowers. China may decide to counter the decision by banning American researchers or students from its educational institutions and enforcing tit-for-tat visa bans.
The most recent spat between the two countries was over Hong Kong. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that with the new Chinese security law in place, “Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as US laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997.” The Chinese student visa ban is apparently not a direct result of China’s Hong Kong security law, but the timing is significant as relations deteriorate between China and the US.
Before that, a trade war between the US and China intensified in 2018 and this soured their relationship. Tensions escalated in March this year as US President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as “the China virus” with accusatory connotations. Trump also blamed China for not doing enough in time to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to other nations, and, separately, has argued that the World Health Organisation has been too lenient with China. Around the same time, China floated the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus may have been brought to Wuhan by the US Army.