Anytime I see any Western Government, media outlet or public commentator make falsified accusations that Chinese international students in the West are potential “spies” for the Chinese Government, I often ask myself – where is the evidence, and how does being patriotic and seeking support from your country’s embassy or consulate any different from any other international student being patriotic and seeking support or advice from their respective embassy or consulate. I also wonder why no one has spoken about the concerns over the safety of Chinese international students – I mean to be placed under this air of suspicion only elevates safety risks for students. Over the past year, I have been involved in a number of real life and online debates and news interviews in Australia discussing this issue. My primary concern is that when these accusations are made, does anyone think about how Chinese international students feel about being placed under a microscope and whether people even think about safety concerns.
I am not denying that there are no spies, I am sure there is, but having worked with, knowing and supporting many Chinese international students over the past 4 – 5 years, I can guarantee that the majority of them ( and I can safely say over 99%) are not spies and are just looking at expanding their education horizons as well as getting more involved in Western civic society. And for those who may not want to be involved in civic society, they just want to get on with their lives, with no thoughts about spying for the Chinese Government. I know I have written similar pieces on this before, but I was prompted to write on this topic again this week in light of more Western conjecture on this issue as well as the rise of racist attacks and harassment happening all over the West against Chinese students. In addition, if you have read recent media reports over the last 24 hours, you would have seen US President Donald Trump make these same claims (via Politico):
“Trump expressed concern that some foreign students were acting as foreign agents, particularly from China”
This was a statement provided by one of the attendees at dinner with CEOs on Tuesday night. All this is over the Tariff war which Trump is waging against China in many ways as a warning to Xi Jinping that China is not allowed to be more powerful than the USA. Chinese international students contribute $12 billion to the US economy and $28 billion Aussie dollars to the Australian economy, so as you can see comments like this by Trump which will most likely be echoed by Western nations like Australia will impact on the number of Chinese students studying in these Western nations. All of this suspicion of covert operations and espionage come from all the exaggerated claims of China’s foreign interference. As you all may be aware, this is a major issue in Australia and in Australia it has resulted in Chinese international students being the subject and targets of racial attacks, harassment and violence. I am pretty sure similar things are or have happened in other parts of the West where this type of suspicion exists.
My question is – are the West returning to “yellow peril”? From what I see in Australia and from the recent comments by Trump and previously by the FBI, yes they are fear mongering about the Chinese and this directly impacts on the safety and the agency of Chinese international students. I have just come back from a trip around China and I have met many people, including former international students and those who are prospective international students and they have all stated and expressed their concerns on their safety when they go abroad. One must remember many international students study abroad with little social and support networks and this makes students extremely vulnerable. And to be honest it is not hard for China to turn off the tap and create policies for its citizens not to go to countries like Australia and the US for higher education. Watching the news in China, it looks like it is heading in that direction (particularly with the US due to the tariff trade war) with the Chinese Government being featured on the news there expressing how they are not concerned about this and will implement consequential decisions if required. I would say that reducing international education will be one of these decisions.
My final point for this piece is that as individuals we can control what we believe and what we absorb in terms of information, and I would like to challenge people to stop believing in the Western conjecture that “most” Chinese international students are “spies”. The majority are not, and the more this rhetoric is peddled, the more the safety, freedoms and agency of Chinese international students will be compromised. I will leave my piece here.
To read the Politico piece, please click on: Trump rants behind closed doors with CEOs