The White House plans to cancel visas for thousands of Chinese graduate students affiliated with Chinese universities tied to the People’s Liberation Army, according to a report.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the plan with President Trump during a meeting Tuesday, The New York Times reported, citing officials with knowledge of the discussions.
The plan to cancel visas comes as the Trump administration is seeking to punish China after Beijing moved to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong, which was condemned by Pompeo this week. Canceling visas was already being discussed by the administration before Beijing’s move in the territory.
The visa cancellations could affect at least 3,000 of the approximately 360,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S.
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Chinese students make up the largest percentage of international students in the U.S. and American universities, which rely on their tuition, are expected to oppose the administration’s move, according to The Times.
The F.B.I. and the Justice Department have warned universities about the potential of Chinese spies among the student population – especially in the sciences – but schools have been leery of targeting students due to their nationality and have said security protocols are in place, The Times reported.
“In China, much more of society is government-controlled or government-affiliated,” Frank Wu, a law professor and the incoming president of Queens College at the City University of New York, told The Times. “You can’t function there or have partners from there if you aren’t comfortable with how the system is set up.”
“Targeting only some potential professors, scholars, students and visitors from China is a lower level of stereotyping than banning all, but it is still selective, based on national origin,” he added.
The cancellations would not be aimed at punishing the students, who would likely not be accused of any wrongdoing, but rather at the Chinese military universities with ties to the People’s Liberation Army.
The U.S. believes those universities often train students in spying techniques and encourage intelligence gathering while in the United States.
Other U.S. officials believe Chinese students living in the U.S. could potentially be targeted by American intelligence agencies to spy for the U.S.
The administration has not specified which Chinese or U.S. universities would be affected.
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The State Department declined to comment to The Times.
Tensions have risen between Washington and Beijing in the last few months over trade, technology and allegations of Beijing’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic that began last year.