The US has revoked the visas of more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers it said had ties to the Chinese military, accusing some of espionage, in the latest dispute between the rival superpowers.
China had been “abusing student visas to exploit American academia”, said Chad Wolf, acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, in a speech on Wednesday. “We are blocking visas for certain Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to China’s military fusion strategy to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research.”
It follows a proclamation in late May from President Donald Trump that “certain graduate level and above Chinese nationals associated with entities in China” that support or work with the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be blocked from entering the US. He said Chinese nationals studying in the US had stolen intellectual property and assisted the PLA.
Last month the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, flagged moves on student visas, telling a local radio show: “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Trump has taken a serious, serious look at.”On Wednesday the state department confirmed more than 1,000 visas had been revoked under its “broad authority” since it began acting on the Trump order on 1 June. A department spokeswoman declined to give details on the visas revoked, citing privacy laws, but said: “The high-risk graduate students and research scholars made ineligible under this proclamation represent a small subset of the total number of Chinese students and scholars coming to the United States.”
Chinese people make up the largest proportion of international university students in the US, with about 370,000 enrolled in 2018-19.
She said the US continued to welcome students and scholars from China, “who do not further the Chinese Communist party’s goals of military dominance”.
Some Chinese students enrolled in US universities said they received emailed notices on Wednesday from the US embassy in Beijing or US consulates in China informing them their visas had been cancelled.
Nearly 50 students holding F1 academic visas including postgraduates and undergraduates said in a WeChat chatroom that the notices stated they would have to apply for new visas if they wanted to travel to the US.
James Palmer, deputy editor of Foreign Policy and author on China, said students whose visas had been revoked were listing their details on an online spreadsheet, and many schools had only nominal ties to the PLA.
“One of the things about the Chinese university system is that it’s not uncommon for people to graduate from, like, the Jiangxi Military Studies University with a degree in forestry or English literature. The military element is legacy in a lot of cases,” Palmer tweeted.
China said in June it resolutely opposed any US move to restrict Chinese students from studying in the US and urged Washington to do more to enhance mutual exchanges and understanding.
Hostilities between the US and China have spread to multiple fronts including mutual sanctions against officials, and a broadening trade war. This week Reuters reported US customs officials were preparing for a ban on cotton and tomato imports from the region of Xinjiang, where China is implementing a large scale crackdown on Uighur people and other ethnic minorities, which experts say amount to cultural genocide.
China denies it mistreats people in Xinjiang and that the camps are re-education centres to combat terrorism and extremism.