President Trump’s move would target scholars associated with Chinese universities with ties to the People’s Liberation Army.
President Trump is expected to announce Friday that the U.S. will cancel the visas of some Chinese graduate students and researchers, according to administration officials and others familiar with the matter.
The move would target scholars associated with Chinese universities with ties to the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. It wasn’t known how many people would be affected by the decision. The New York Times earlier reported the administration’s plans. The president is expected to announce the visa cancellations at a news conference, during which he said he would outline his response to China’s actions in Hong Kong.
Senior administration officials have been discussing revoking Chinese student visas for months before China’s legislature approved on Thursday a resolution to impose national-security laws on Hong Kong. The move overrides the territory’s partial autonomy and is designed to crush anti-Beijing protests that have challenged Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Administration officials cautioned that the details of Friday’s announcement are still in flux. Mr. Trump is also expected to make other China-related announcements, but he is unlikely to say the U.S. will impose sanctions on Chinese officials or pull out of the trade deal he negotiated earlier this year, officials said. The White House declined to comment.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday night that he is confident Mr. Trump will address concerns about Chinese students, but he declined to say what the president would announce. “This is a Communist, tyrannical regime that poses a real risk to the United States, and we have an obligation and duty to make sure the students are coming here to study,” he said during an interview with Fox News.
On Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo said the State Department had officially determined that Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous from China because of Beijing’s tightening grip on the territory. That assessment was required under a law meant to ensure Hong Kong retained its capitalist ways and the Western legal system as Beijing promised when it took control of the territory from Britain in 1997. The Chinese Embassy in Washington said, “Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs” and that it would “allow no external interference.” It didn’t address the issue of student visas and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Mr. Trump has expressed increasing frustration with China in recent weeks, alleging that officials there didn’t do enough to stop the coronavirus from spreading around the world and weren’t transparent with other nations about the extent of the outbreak. Concerns in the Trump administration that Chinese students are serving as conduits for espionage and intellectual-property theft predate the pandemic.
About 360,000 Chinese students are studying or working in the U.S., roughly a third of the total international student population. Of these, many are enrolled in graduate programs or working as researchers in the science and engineering fields. Chinese students who graduate with STEM—or science, technology, engineering, and math—degrees are permitted to work in the U.S. for up to three years under a program known as Optional Practical Training. Trump administration officials are also weighing suspending the program for the coming year, administration officials said.
A variety of U.S. agencies, including the Justice, State, and Defense departments, and the National Institutes of Health, have raised alarms over what officials say are Beijing’s attempts to tap U.S. universities to boost China’s military and technological competitiveness.
U.S. officials accuse China of targeting academia, including by sending military researchers to American labs and using talent-recruitment programs to bring top scientists and entrepreneurs, as well as their intellectual property, to China.
Beijing has denied any systematic effort to steal U.S. scientific research, and Chinese state media have called U.S. allegations of intellectual-property theft a political tool.
Some American university leaders have dismissed U.S. officials’ national-security concerns as over-hyped and discriminatory and said there should be no restrictions on unclassified research meant to be published. They have also said international collaboration—especially with China, given its wealth of scientific talent—is essential to advancing discovery.
Despite a commitment to open exchanges, universities should consider drawing the line at working with the PLA, said a 2018 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an Australian government-backed, a nonpartisan think tank.
“Helping a rival military develop its expertise and technology isn’t in the national interest,” said the report by researcher Alex Joske. He found that China’s military-sponsored more than 2,500 scientists and engineers to study abroad over the previous decade, at times without their host schools’ knowledge of their military affiliation.
In an indictment unsealed in January, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts charged a researcher with acting as a Chinese government agent. On her application for a J-1 visa used for scholarly exchanges, Yanqing Ye said she was a student at China’s National University of Defense Technology but omitted that she was a lieutenant in the PLA, according to prosecutors, who said she carried out assignments from military colleagues while at Boston University from 2017 to 2019.