China’s foreign ministry has hit out at Washington after U.S. officials refused entry to dozens of its overseas students and visiting fellows with valid visas.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said nearly 30 students and visiting scholars were repatriated following interrogation in August 2021, despite holding visas to enter the U.S.
“In August 2021 alone, nearly 30 Chinese students and visiting fellows to the U.S. suffered similar unjust treatment, with many more reporting rough handling during harassment, interrogation, and searches,” Wang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Nov. 3.
He said officials asked the students whether they or their parents were members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and whether they had been assigned any task by the Chinese government before leaving.
Wang said officials had taken cellphone snapshots of routine military training in colleges and universities as evidence of connections to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
“Such practices … undermine mutual trust and cooperation [and] jeopardize the steady and healthy development of bilateral relations,” Wang said.
President Trump issued an executive order on May 29, 2020, accusing Beijing of engaged in “a wide-ranging and heavily resourced campaign to acquire sensitive United States technologies and intellectual property, in part to bolster the modernization and capability of its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).”
“The [Chinese] authorities use some Chinese students, mostly post-graduate students and post-doctorate researchers, to operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property,” the order said.
“Students or researchers from [China] studying or researching beyond the undergraduate level who are or have been associated with the PLA … provide particular cause for concern,” it said.
According to a number of media reports, many of those affected are from seven universities believed to have close ties with the PLA: Beihang University; the Beijing Institute of Technology; the Harbin Institute of Technology; Northwestern Polytechnical University; Harbin Engineering University; Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and Nanjing University of Science and Technology.
‘Specific tasks and missions’
U.S.-based commentator Wu Zuolai said the CCP has long required its overseas students to help satisfy their country’s thirst for new technology.
“They organize them and send them out with specific tasks and missions,” Wu told RFA. “These people will go on to do military industrial or national defense research after returning from the U.S.”
“Some of these [visiting students and fellows] are not there in good faith, and not just as academics,” he said. “Their aim is to get hold of technological secrets fast and hand them over to the Chinese government, or to state-owned companies and military-industrial firms.”
“That’s why … a lot of PLA-linked universities have been blacklisted … and why students and scholars with a particular background are being subjected to severe scrutiny, and are being refused entry,” he said.
Some 370,000 Chinese students are currently estimated to be in the U.S., around 40 percent of whom are in science and engineering.
Australia-based researcher Song Wendi said the U.S., as a more open society, could afford to show more tolerance.
“The U.S. needs to show a more open and tolerant attitude, out of self-confidence, because it’s a democracy rather than an authoritarian regime,” Song said. “Only then can it demonstrate the superiority of its system.”
“It can only attract talent from other countries if it remains open to those countries,” she said. “That way, overseas students from China or anywhere will likely … choose not to return … and the U.S. will have even more talent when it comes to competition with China.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.