Blotter

When relations with China worsen, science suffers

Legislation and a presidential proclamation aim to restrict student and research visas for Chinese graduate students
Sarina Neote
June 3, 2020

The SECURE CAMPUS Act, legislation introduced by Republicans last week in the U.S. House and Senate, and a subsequent proclamation by President Donald Trump will damage the American research enterprise by barring certain Chinese students from studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics in America. U.S. institutions depend on international students' contributions in classrooms and laboratories, and the U.S. workforce depends on their talents and skills.

The SECURE CAMPUS Act, if it becomes law, would bar immigrants from the People's Republic of China (but not those from Hong Kong or Taiwan) from receiving visas for graduate school or postdoctoral fellowships in the United States in STEM fields. Introduced on May 27 by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., the legislation would also place restrictions on participants in Chinese foreign talent-recruitment programs, such as the Thousand Talents Program, which has been at the center of several recent court cases

Meanwhile, the White House published on Friday a presidential proclamation suspending the entry of students and researchers affiliated with the Chinese army, saying that they may "operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property.” The proclamation also cancels thousands of visas for Chinese graduate students and researchers currently in the U.S. This is despite the fact that officials have acknowledged there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the students.

These actions come amid the backdrop of worsening tensions between China and the U.S.

Both countries are blaming each other for the COVID-19 pandemic. Trade relations are worsening after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the State Department no longer considers Hong Kong to have significant autonomy, which means the Trump administration is likely to end some or all of the U.S.’s special trade and economic agreements with Hong Kong. In retaliation, China  ordered two major state-run agriculture businesses to suspend purchases of U.S. farm goods. This could jeopardize billions of dollars in trade when the U.S. economy is already suffering from the impact of the  pandemic. 

While relations between the U.S. and China have had highs and lows throughout history, collaborating on scientific research has fostered openness and togetherness since the Nixon administration. But now, political tug-of-wars are spilling into international collaboration of scientific research, which is vital for not only to spur innovation and discoveries, but also to combat the current  pandemic. 

Read the ASBMB's statement on the presidential proclamation and statement on the SECURE CAMPUS Act.

Sarina Neote

Sarina Neote is ASBMB's science policy manager.

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