June 5, 2019
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would make it harder for Chinese students and scholars to enter the United States, citing security concerns as a trade war rages between Washington and Beijing.
The members of Congress, mostly President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, have introduced bills that would require more reporting from colleges and universities about funds they receive from China, prohibit students or scholars with ties to the Chinese military from entering the United States or set new limits on access to sensitive academic research.
“The Communist Party is infiltrating American society to censor free speech and steal sensitive research,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has sponsored several pieces of China-related legislation, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The individual bills face little chance of passing despite growing bipartisan concern in Congress over security risks from China.
While Trump and many other Republicans want stricter controls on immigration as well as a hard line on China, Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, warn about profiling Chinese students and academics. And lawmakers from both parties, as well as university officials, point to the multi-million-dollar contribution to the U.S. economy from the 350,000 Chinese who come for undergraduate or graduate studies.
“We believe that the overwhelming number of international students from all countries come here with the best of intentions and we should continue to encourage them to come,” Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, told Reuters.
However, small pieces of the measures could make their way into broader, must-pass bills, like the massive annual National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently making its way through Congress.
Cruz and Republican Representative Francis Rooney marked the 30th anniversary of China’s bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown on Tuesday by re-introducing the “Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft (SHEET) Act,” intended to prevent what they described as Chinese espionage efforts at U.S. universities.
Chinese authorities reject such accusations and are pushing back. On Monday, Beijing warned students and academics about risks in the United States, pointing to limits on the duration of visas and visa refusals.
On Tuesday, China widened its warning to companies and tourists. It told companies operating in the United States they could face harassment from U.S. law enforcement and cited gun violence, robberies and thefts.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Chris Sanders and Leslie Adler)