A US diplomat says US colleges need more Chinese students to enroll — but in the arts, so they can be walled off from accessing sensitive tech

Chinese students are still welcome in the US, but less so in fields of science where sensitive tech could be involved, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said.

However, the ideal international students for these fields are Indians, not Chinese, Campbell said. But he added that the US does need more Chinese students, too — just not in STEM.

“I would like to see more Chinese students coming to the United States to study humanities and social sciences, not particle physics,” Campbell said.

He also cited security concerns about letting Chinese students access sensitive technology.

“There’s been careful attempts now across most American universities to support continuing higher education, but to be careful about the labs, some of the activities of Chinese students,” he said.

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.”

Chinese academics have already faced Trump-era restrictions

Back in the Trump era, there were policies in place to restrict Chinese access to developments in the US academic space — like denying visas to Chinese graduate students based on the Chinese universities they attended.

Former President Donald Trump also enacted the China Initiative, a program aimed at countering China’s economic espionage and preventing trade secret theft. The China Initiative was scrapped by the Department of Justice in 2022 after critics said it promoted an anti-Asian bias.

But even now, Chinese students say that they have been facing extra scrutiny while entering the US. The Washington Post, citing online discussion forums, reported in March that Chinese students were questioned for hours at US border controls, or had their visas canceled without valid reasons.

Chinese students make up the largest international student body in the US, with almost 290,000 students enrolled in US institutions in the 2022-23 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education.

Indian students are the second largest group, with about 270,000 enrolled in the 2022-23 academic year. And Campbell said that there is space for this group to grow.

“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 told the think tank on Monday.

Worsening US-China relations

Campbell’s comments also come amid worsening US-China relations, particularly in the tech space.

In April, the Senate passed a bill that, if signed into law by President Joe Biden, will force Chinese tech company Bytedance to sell video site TikTok.

The White House also announced in May that it would impose tariffs on $18 billion of Chinese goods.

In particular, new measures target Chinese electric vehicles, with tariffs rising from 25% to 100%. This provided relief for American EV companies nervous about the competition from cheap Chinese EVs entering the market.

China, meanwhile, is squeezing the US tech companies that operate within its borders. Apple is one of them, with its iPhone sales in China dropping 24% in the first six weeks of the year, according to data from Counterpoint Research.

And homegrown Chinese companies are taking a larger share of the domestic pie, aided by the state.

China banned its officials from using iPhones in September, a move that coincided with Huawei’s launch of its Mate 60 Pro, a breakthrough phone whose capabilities rivaled those of the iPhone.

Sure enough, unit sales of Huawei phones climbed 64% in the same period iPhone unit sales fell by almost a quarter.

The Council of Foreign Relations think tank and representatives of Campbell didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider, made outside normal working hours.

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Aditi Bharade