US Limiting Access of Chinese Students Amid National Security Concerns, Official Says

More Chinese students in the United States should study the humanities rather than sciences because of national security risks, a top U.S. diplomat said.

“I would like to see more Chinese students that are coming to the United States to study the humanities and social sciences, not particle physics,” Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank on June 24.

U.S. universities are now taking precautionary steps regarding Chinese students and limiting their access to sensitive U.S. technology, Mr. Campbell says. U.S. universities have made “careful attempts” to support continuing higher education for Chinese students but have also been “careful about the labs, some of the activities of Chinese students,” he added.

“I do think it is possible to curtail and to limit certain kinds of access, and we have seen that generally, particularly in technological programs across the United States,” Mr. Campbell said.

His comments come amid growing national security concerns about the Chinese regime as tensions between Washington and Beijing have intensified in multiple areas, including technology.

For years, Chinese students have been the largest source of international students in the United States. While the number reached an all-time high of about 372,000 students in the 2019–20 academic year, it’s dropped to just under 290,000 in 2022–23, according to data compiled by Open Doors.

In addition, Mr. Campbell also suggested that U.S. universities recruit more international students for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs because of a shortage of U.S. students in those fields. Rejecting the notion that Chinese students are the only source, he proposed that Indian students could fill the gaps.

“I believe that the largest increase that we need to see going forward would be much larger numbers of Indian students that come to study in American universities on a range of technology and other fields,” he said.

Indian students represent the second-largest foreign student body in the United States, with nearly 269,000 students in the 2022–23 academic year. They also lead in STEM fields, with about 76 percent of Indian students majoring in these areas, compared with the average 55 percent of international students during the 2022–23 academic year, according to Open Doors.

The deputy secretary also noted a big drop in U.S. students in China and said he wanted more U.S. students to go to the country and learn about its culture and politics.

“What we’ve seen really is a collapse of the numbers from the United States to China. That is primarily the arena where the State Department plays its largest role. And we’ve tried to encourage, carefully and responsibly, the increase in numbers accordingly,” Mr. Campbell said.

Despite the challenges, he said that it’s essential not to sever ties between China and the United States. However, he pointed out that Beijing has made sustaining academic and business interactions increasingly difficult.

“It really has been China that has made it difficult for the kinds of activities that we would like to see sustaining,” Mr. Campbell said, adding that many U.S. executives and philanthropists are wary of long-term stays in China because of personal security concerns.

His remarks were in response to a question about the China Initiative, launched by the Trump administration in 2018 to combat the Chinese regime’s state-sponsored espionage and theft of trade secrets. The program led to the prosecution of about two dozen U.S. academics, most of them of Chinese descent, who were alleged to have concealed funding ties with Chinese institutions and state-backed recruitment plans.

The Biden administration ended the initiative in 2022 after critics said it allegedly spurred racial profiling of Asian Americans and chilled scientific exchange between the United States and China.

Reuters and Hannah Ng contributed to this report.


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