President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit, Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit, Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Evan Vucci

Aggressive Espionage Places Chinese Students at Risk of Removal

December 5, 2018

Under the Trump administration, U.S.-China tensions have exacerbated to new levels. Washington has recently adopted a far more confrontational strategy to deal with China’s growing influence and suspected malfeasance, and many experts believe that the U.S. is steadily moving closer to a Cold War with China. U.S. officials continue to take steps intended to address issues such as China’s unfair trade practices, military expansion, and theft of intellectual property. Evidence of the latter is widely documented, and it is estimated to cost the U.S. between $225 billion and $660 billion every year. Although Chinese cyber-espionage dropped after a bilateral agreement was reached between Obama and Xi Jinping, there has been a marked increase since Trump took office.

Chinese theft of intellectual property is reported to occur at U.S. universities. During a recent hearing of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Marco Rubio stated that China is currently using “our universities” against us, to which the current Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, agreed that there is “no question” about it. During the same meeting, FBI Director Christopher Wray asserted that “almost every field office that the FBI has around the country” has confirmed Chinese counterintelligence undertaken by professors, scientists, and students. Wray expressed how Confucius Institutes on American universities contribute to the theft, and he criticized the “naivete on the part of the academic sector” and urged raising “awareness within our academic sector, within our private sector, as part of the defense.”

Aside from U.S. intelligence hearings, palpable evidence reveals intellectual property theft by Chinese academics. Several years ago, three Chinese researchers were charged with accepting bribes from a Chinese company and a “Chinese government-supported research institution.” Many also believe that Liu Ruopeng, or “China’s Elon Musk,” stole intellectual property on behalf of the Chinese government while enrolled at Duke University, intending to commercialize the research in China.

Such espionage is beginning to create complications for Chinese students. White House aide Stephen Miller apparently urged Trump to cease providing visas to students from China. This move would effectively ban them all from the country, although the proposal never came to fruition. However, in June, the Department of State began restricting the visas of certain Chinese graduate students. This policy is intended to combat intellectual property theft of students studying in “sensitive research fields,” shortening the duration of their visas from five years to one.

Only days ago, several officials revealed that the Trump administration is exploring further restrictions on Chinese students. The proposals include additional vetting, examination of phone records and social media accounts, and training of academic officials on how to recognize spying and theft of intellectual property. Although these policies are not implemented as of yet, the administration’s continued focus on university espionage and recent restrictions on Chinese visas make it likely that these new ideas will become a reality.

The International Student and Scholar Services at Vanderbilt could not be reached for comment.

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