In a speech this week, Christopher Ford, head of the U.S. State Department’s international security bureau, detailed how denying Chinese undergraduate and graduate students visas is part of the government’s 21st century foreign policy reorientation toward “great power competition” with China.
Ford stated that denying and restricting visas to Chinese students, especially in tech sectors, is viewed as a way to curtail “technology transfer.”
Imperialist propaganda regularly paints the United States as the victim of Chinese technological theft, which is then cited as the reason for aggressive U.S. policies. Ford, however, in a rare moment of honesty, disposed of this myth. In his speech he stated that any acquisition of technology by China for its own development, “by means both fair and foul,” [author’s emphasis] represents a geopolitical competitive challenge that requires an “effective response.” In other words, it is not alleged stealing that is viewed as a threat, but more fundamentally China’s technological development and know-how in general.
From this imperialist viewpoint, the 350,000 Chinese foreign students now legally attending U.S. universities – one-third of all foreign students – are a growing security risk for whom the very act of learning constitutes a form of “technology transfer” that must be curbed.
The Trump White House, acting on the anti-China consensus among all U.S. political elites, announced in 2018 that it would impose limitations on visas to Chinese students, and considered halting them altogether. American universities have been outspoken critics of this policy, fearful of losing out on billions of dollars that Chinese students pay in tuition annually.
Recently, Arizona State University found itself caught up in the U.S. government’s war on Chinese students and scholars.
In August, nine Chinese ASU students attempting to re-enter the United States to continue their studies under their visas were detained at Los Angeles International Airport and deported by Customs and Border Protection. University officials maintain that the students were academically eligible to return. CBP did not give any reason why the students were sent back, prompting the university’s president Michael Crow to write letters to the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.
There was no due process. The deported students were investigated, like numerous others, simply because they were Chinese and pursuing advanced degrees that might lead, in the words of Ford, to “technological acquisition” by China. Customs officials searched and reviewed the students’ personal electronic devices, deemed them “inadmissible,” and forced them to pay for their own plane tickets back to China.
Around the same time, ASU, along with 15 other American colleges, quietly closed its Confucius Institute. The Confucius Institute was a cultural center dedicated to the promotion of the Chinese language and culture. It received its funding from the Chinese government’s educational ministry and operated in coordination with ASU’s Chinese language program.
In an act of political blackmail, the United States Department of Defense refused to continue to fund ASU programs while the Confucius Institute remained on campus. The university, recipient of millions in military and other government grants, duly complied.
Without the Confucius Institute, ASU student perceptions of China and Chinese culture will largely be shaped by the Chinese Language Flagship Program, funded by the Department of Defense. ASU students can now expect to take their Chinese language and cultural courses with an even bigger dose of regime-change politics.
What is fundamental to the racist events at ASU and U.S. government policy in general is the thoroughly colonial view that China must be punished for daring to develop any scientific and technical know-how, and that the act of learning itself by Chinese students is now seen as a dangerous provocation.