BAD POLITICS GET IN WAY OF GOOD EDUCATION


Since the time of Hu Shih, Cornell University has a strong tradition of welcoming students from China

by Philip J Cunningham

If the administration of President Biden is serious about healing the reputational damage inflicted on the United States by the prejudiced words and deeds of the intemperate Donald Trump, it must reverse presidential proclamation 10043 (PP10043) which calls for the “Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China.

The proclamation, signed in 2020, is still in force, unfairly disrupting the study plans of legitimate researchers and scholars from China.

The ill-considered proclamation rarely gets the headline treatment it deserves because it does its damage, one broken dream at a time, leaving some students stranded in the midst of degree programs, others despairing of ever entering graduate school after so many years of English study and specialty preparation.

It’s just another cloud over the stormy sea of U.S.-China relations.

Trump’s successors seek to expand the proclamation’s purview. Republican senators Tom Cotton, Tommy Tuberville and Marsha Blackburn made a call in April of this year for a so-called “Secure Campus” act that would deny visas to all Chinese citizens studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It is high time that Biden took the high ground on U.S.-China relations instead of lurking in the odious swamp of hate created by Trump and his congressional supporters.

Among the colleges that trigger visa refusal are Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin Engineering University, Northwestern Polytechnical University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Nanjing University of Science and Technology. 

According to a report in Caijing, the visa discrimination does not stop with the above list but also includes institutions such as Shanghai Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tongji University and University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. 

These are reputable institutions who train tens of thousands of good students. The insinuation that because there exists a degree of institutional government influence that everyone who passes through the gates must be a government agent is demonstrably ridiculous. 

GoFundMe project has been launched in the name of combatting the proclamation saying “P.P. 10043 has introduced racism, discrimination, and political restrictions into the U.S. higher education system, and has made thousands of students sacrifices to political rivalries.” 

President Biden has already demonstrated his discretionary power to revoke odious and inappropriate proclamations of his predecessor. Within weeks of assuming the presidency, Biden revoked Proclamation 10052 because it “does not advance the interests of the United States.” 

The proclamation in question is subtitled: “Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Present a Risk to the United States Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak.”  

The language invoked by Biden suggests there was pushback against the measure both for humanitarian reasons and because the U.S. recognizes the key contribution that foreign talent makes to the U.S. economy and sense of itself as a progressive nation. 

The proclamation had to be revoked, according to Biden, “because it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.” 

The same can be said for Proclamation 10043, so what’s Biden waiting for? 

There are 370,000 Chinese students in the U.S. who contribute tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, trailblaze science, contribute to the workforce, produce university patents and come up with new inventions, so this is not a niche issue. 

CNN recently drew attention to the poignant plight of Chinese students trapped by politics. A Michigan Daily article on the unseen challenges faced by Chinese students in the U.S., for whom the door is now only “half-open,” offers a personalized glimpse at the harrowing restrictions and racial vilification that came to a head during the Trump presidency. 

When Biden was elected, there was a tentative hope that things might go back in the direction of normal, with a more temperate U.S. leader at the helm. U.S. consular staff in China saw a bump in student visa queries, and various polls have shown the U.S. crawling out of the diplomatic shadows of the dark Trump years. 

“It felt like a light switch being suddenly turned on,” said Frances Zhang, a dean of college counselling in Shanghai. “Chinese students saw Biden as a president who would be more welcoming and friendly towards international students. The change could not have come sooner.” 

The current administration’s reluctance to right Trump’s wrongs on China is hard to read. 

Biden was supposed to be different from Trump. Blinken was supposed to be an improvement over Pompeo. But the anti-China bias of the Trump administration remains intact. 

What’s up with that? 

Perhaps U.S. domestic politics are part of the problem. After four years of intemperate nationalistic rhetoric, and the added trauma of a pandemic, the origins of which are still clouded in mystery, the knee-jerk anti-China impulse in U.S. politics has only gotten stronger. 

There are votes to be had by taking a hard stance on China. 

Kicking China, as has become the trend, is actually a U.S. self-goal because it makes a mockery of fair play. Using Chinese students as hapless pawns to score points against China’s government hurts U.S. higher education, robbing it not just of much-coveted tuition fees, but its claim to be the world’s best. 

If the current educational decoupling continues apace, China need no longer to worry about losing so many of its best and brightest to the U.S., for the U.S. is becoming a beacon that no longer beckons. 

Proclamation 10043 is an example of bad politics getting in the way of a good education. 

It should be revoked immediately.