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Trump must rethink new limits on visas for Chinese students

To contend that graduates only want to go to the United States to steal hi-tech secrets is far-fetched and ignores the facts, but Beijing has to resist a tit-for-tat response

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 5:20am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 5:20am

The short-sightedness of US President Donald Trump’s thinking towards China is blindingly on show in student visa restrictions that will soon take effect.

One-year limits and tougher scrutiny of applications will be imposed on graduates wanting to study in fields determined to be technologically sensitive, among them robotics, aviation and hi-tech manufacturing.

Chinese hi-tech students may find their US visas restricted under a new rule- and Senator Marco Rubio is delighted

These are areas of keen competition that are perceived by both sides as crucial to driving growth and development, and central to Washington’s accusations of intellectual property theft. But mixing the attaining of academic knowledge with the ongoing trade dispute makes no sense; the losses hugely outweigh the questionable gains.

Trump’s inward-looking ideas for American rejuvenation and the perception that China is the biggest threat to his plans were bound to lead to a trade crisis. Last week he announced 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion of Chinese imports and restrictions on investment in the US hi-tech sector.

But also revealed were steps “to protect our national security” that involve “Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology”.

Graduate students wanting to do further study at US universities in areas related to President Xi Jinping’s “Made in China 2025” development drive are among the targets; visas previously given for five years will be reduced to just one.

Chinese students say US visa restrictions won’t affect their plans

To contend that Chinese students only want to go to the United States to steal secrets is far-fetched. Such thinking ignores the facts – 10 per cent of all American doctorate students are Chinese and 80 per cent end up getting jobs and staying. There are more Chinese engineers working on artificial intelligence at American technology companies than in all of China. The nation most benefiting from the influx of talent is not China, but the US.

There will be other losses from the new visa rules, which take effect on Monday. Students intending to study overseas may perceive the US as unfriendly and go to other countries, Britain, Australia and Canada chief among them. That would have a big financial cost if it happens in volume; almost one-third of the one million foreigners enrolled at American schools are Chinese and they spend an estimated US$12 billion a year on tuition and living expenses, money that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But the losses are not only financial. Even though Sino-US relations have soured, most Chinese and Americans like one another. Good people-to-people ties ensure a stable relationship and that staves off the risk of another cold war.

China has to resist a tit-for-tat response – and Trump should rethink his flawed strategy.