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US needs Chinese students in humanities, Indian students for sciences, US diplomat says

By Thomson Reuters Jun 24, 2024 | 1:15 PM

By Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. should welcome more students from China, but to study the humanities rather than sciences, the second-ranked U.S. diplomat said on Monday, noting that U.S. universities are limiting Chinese students’ access to sensitive technology given security concerns.

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said not enough Americans were studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He said the U.S. needed to recruit more international students for those fields, but from India – an increasingly important U.S. security partner – not China.

For years, Chinese students have made up the largest foreign student body in the U.S. and totaled nearly 290,000 in the 2022/23 academic year. But some in academia and civil society argue that deteriorating U.S.-China relations and concerns about theft of U.S. expertise, have derailed scientific cooperation and subjected Chinese students to unwarranted suspicion.

“I would like to see more Chinese students coming to the United States to study humanities and social sciences, not particle physics,” Campbell told the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

Campbell was asked about the China Initiative introduced by the Trump administration, intended to combat Chinese espionage and intellectual property theft, which ended under the Biden administration after critics said it spurred racial profiling of Asian Americans.

Campbell said U.S. universities had made “careful attempts” to support continuing higher education for Chinese students, but had also been “careful about the labs, some of the activities of Chinese students.”

“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,” he said.

Campbell said some had suggested that China was the only source to make up the shortage of science students.

“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.”

Campbell said the U.S. had to be careful to not eliminate links between China and the U.S., but officials in Beijing were largely to blame for any withering in academic, business or non-profit sector ties.

“It really has been China that has made it difficult for the kinds of activities that we would like to see sustaining,” Campbell said, adding that foreign executives and philanthropists were wary about long-term stays in China due to concerns about personal security.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Rod Nickel)