US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Donald Trump is weighing more restrictions on Chinese students in the US in the “coming weeks and months”.
The comments came as it emerged that a more than a dozen Chinese researchers would be forced to leave the US after a Texas university suspended its relationship with a Chinese government-funded scholarship programme.
There has been growing scrutiny of Chinese scholars at US universities over concerns about intellectual property theft, but critics have warned that policy overreach could target ordinary students and encourage xenophobic sentiments.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The growing tensions between the US and China have already spilled over into the academic sphere.
In May, the Trump administration moved to restrict graduate students and researchers associated with the People’s Liberation Army.
More recently, the US designated Confucius Institutes – programmes run by the Chinese government to teach Chinese language and culture – as “foreign missions” for carrying out a “malign influence campaign” aimed at American universities.
Beijing has denied this as the US “demonising and stigmatising” a form of cultural and people-to-people exchange between the countries.
On Monday Pompeo told WMAL radio’s Mornings On The Mall programme: “Not every Chinese student who is here is working on behalf of or at the behest of the direction of the Chinese Communist Party, but it’s something President Trump has taken a serious, serious look at.
“It is also the case that nearly every student who is here is being watched, right ... you wouldn’t consider them spies in the most formal sense, but many of these students are under enormous pressure as a result of the activity that the Chinese Communist Party is taking back home.”
Last week the University of North Texas (UNT) informed 15 post-graduate students in an email that it would end ties with researchers funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council, which is run by China’s education ministry.
No reason was given for the move, but a follow-up email said those affected individuals would have 30 days to leave the country from August 31.
The emails were shared online by Liang Yuheng, a UNT alumnus who graduated last year, and created a petition to call for the reversal of the decision.
“I was shocked and surprised,” Liang, who has been in contact with the 15 affected scholars, said.
“I don’t know why they decided to kick out all the people funded under the CSC. Now everyone is selling their cars and their stuff, dealing with their housing, and discussing their futures with their mentors.”
It is unclear why the university suspended its relationship with the Chinese scholarship programme, only two days after classes began.
Liang’s petition – which garnered more than 4,400 signatures by Tuesday afternoon – said that those affected did not pose a threat to the university or the US, but were now forced to return back to China during a global pandemic.
“As we all know, the US is a real free, democratic nation; therefore, I sincerely hope the ban can be lifted,” he wrote on the petition.
Liang, who is now working in Texas, said no clear reasons had been given for the decision, but speculated it was related to charges last week against a Texas A&M University professor, accused of secretly working with the Chinese government while conducting research for Nasa.
Last Friday, the US Department of Justice also arrested a Chinese researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, for allegedly destroying a hard drive while under investigation for transferring sensitive US information to a Chinese military academy.
Several administrations from the University of North Texas did not immediately respond to requests for comment after hours.
The university posted on its Twitter account in response to the petition that the decision was “limited to visiting researchers by this particular organisation, and does not impact any student enrolled and studying at the university.”
It continued: “UNT continues to welcome visiting scholars from around the world, including China.”
The Chinese Scholarship Council did not respond to requests for comment.
More from South China Morning Post:
- US government orders Confucius Institutes to register as foreign mission
- Chinese students turn away from US universities with Britain the big winner
- International students: Chinese universities told to tighten scrutiny of applicants to plug exam loophole
- US charges Nasa researcher linked to China’s talent programme with false statements and wire fraud
- Asian-Americans divided on Yale affirmative action case
This article China-US relations: Donald Trump planning more curbs on students, says Mike Pompeo first appeared on South China Morning Post