Trade tension spills over to academic area

China Daily Published: 2019-06-11 19:20:32
Share this with Close
Messenger Messenger Pinterest LinkedIn

Tighter scrutiny on Chinese students could hinder educational exchanges

Charles Benjamin, a neuroscience student at Stanford University, lingered in front of a painting at a Chinese art exhibit at the university in California.

"It's really beautiful," he said. "The forms of the painting reflect some of the culture."

Thanks to increasing cultural exchange programs over the past few years, Benjamin has had more opportunities to learn about Chinese culture. He has even started learning the language.

"Given how important the relationship between the United States and China is on the world stage right now, I think it's important for individuals from the two different cultures to get to know each other," he said. "In that way it can help ultimately reduce tensions that may exist on national and international levels."

[File photo: IC]

[File photo: IC]

However, such exchanges may go the way of other collateral damage taking place amid the dispute between the two countries, which has expanded from trade into the education realm.

A San Francisco-based tour operator said that more than 100 Chinese students and their parents have canceled an exchange program to the US this summer. "Some of them were denied visas and some of them gave up on applying for visas," said the operator, who asked to remain anonymous.

He said it was unusual to see such a large number of cancellations after many had already paid deposits.

Last week, the Ministry of Education urged students to assess the risk of visa denials before deciding to study in the US, given the tightened restrictions.

Beijing has accused the US of politicizing normal China-US educational exchanges by using the "China threat" and "Chinese infiltration" as excuses.

There's more scrutiny of international students as the administration of US President Donald Trump adopts stricter controls on immigration and a harder line on China.

Benjamin said he hasn't heard anything in particular on the matter from his foreign classmates, but in general he thinks it's harder to get visas as the process has become more intensive than it used to be.

"In this era of rapid globalization, we should be trying to reach out to each other and trying to bridge cultures. The US has been built on the strength of immigrants and people who want to come here," said Benjamin.

Stanford's Department of Art & Art History has been actively engaged in exchanges with Chinese counterparts, including involvement with a faculty member residency in Gansu province's Dunhuang-an ancient city on the Silk Road.

The department is also involved with major annual lectureships involving historians and artists.

"We are trying to get the momentum going as much as we can," said Richard Vinograd, a professor of Asian art at Stanford.

"I regret that it seems there are more complicated bureaucratic processes to go through for them (Chinese students and researchers) to get their visas and applications approved. It poses kind of a barrier for scholar exchanges. It's unfortunate," Vinograd said.

In the past year, some senior officials of the Trump administration, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, have portrayed Chinese studying in the US as potential threats to national security.

Citing "espionage concerns", the US State Department has shortened the validity period of visas for Chinese graduate students in fields such as aviation, robotics and advanced manufacturing from five years to one.

There are also reports of increased visa delays and denials, and prolonged visa checks for Chinese students and researchers.

US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and US Representative Francis Rooney of Florida have recently reintroduced the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act, which is intended to prevent "Chinese espionage" efforts at US universities.

Other US lawmakers are writing bills that would require more reporting from colleges and universities about funds they receive from China. The bills would also prohibit students or scholars with ties to the Chinese military from entering the US, or set new limits on access to sensitive academic research.

The undercutting of scholarship and people-to-people contacts between the two nations is a serious concern for Stanley Kwong, an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco.

"When political tensions intrude into the academic and educational realm, the impacts are more damaging and far-reaching," he said.

Related stories

Share this story on


LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.