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Conclusion Chinese Students: An Emerging Issue in U.S. China Relations? From a rapprochement born primarily of security considerations, the United States and China have developed a friendly and multi- farious relationship, which has evolved to include a great variety of economic, scientific, and intellectual interests in both countries. This does not mean that the relationship has not, at times, been strained. Some problems have come and gone while others, such as the seem- ingly eternal Taiwan issue, and the Congress-inspired tensions over China's family planning policies and human rights in Tibet, seem to have no immediate resolution and will continue to introduce some tension into U.S.-China relations. In a way, then, it is surprising that the decision of a large number of Chinese students to remain in the United States has not, at least so far, made an "unpleasant incident" list. The obvious question Is whether this nagging and intensifying irritant still to some extent soft-pedaled by the Chinese is likely to turn into a more serious controversy in U.S.!hina relations. The loss to the United States of students who have completed their education in this country is not a problem unique to China. It has been a post-WorId War IT phenomenon experienced by both developed and developing nations around the world. What then makes China more sensitive to this issue? Several answers can be suggested. First, the most obvious reason. Still desperately striving to over- come the debilitating effects of the Cultural Revolution on China's 114
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CONCLUSION 115 education, the country needs all the high-level work force that it can train. Modernization and economic reforms have gone hand-in- hand with increased investments in education, and the nonreturn of students and scholars represents not only a significant loss of pro- fessionals but also of scarce funds. In China's case this problem is magnified, because whereas personal or family funds support two- thirds of the students Corning to the United States from other nations, the proportion is reversed for China and t~vo-th~rds of her students are government sponsored, if not government funded. Although an ever-growing share of the cost of educating Chinese students is borne by American institutions, in just three years between 1983 and 1985 Beijing has spent some US$75 million on their nationals in the United States. Obviously, students who remain in the United States do not make a contribution to China's development and therefore do not compensate the nation for these outlays or, for that matter, the cost of their early upbringing and education. In part, the gravity of the problem is also related to the rapidity with which it developed. In the case of other nations, the loss of college-educated professionals accelerated gradually and, on an annual basis, involved relatively modest numbers. In China's case, many tens of thousands of students and scholars were sent to this country in a period of led than a decade. Although China was admittedly prepared to suffer a loss of a small proportion of the graduates, the potential magnitude of people-Ioss now projected by some observers ~ much greater than Beijing bargained for. To make matters worse, many who are seeking to stay in the United States are the "top of the liner scholars, selected for foreign study by China's most prestigious scientific, academic, and government institutions. In other words, as anxious as Beijing is to see the return of all Chinese students, the problem has as much to do with the quality of students who remain behind as with their numbers. Between 1984 and 1986 PRC citizens earned 266 doctorates in science and engineering in U.S. universities, and it is just these inclividuals who are most likely to extend their stay ~ the United States and seek ways to circumvent the visa legalities that force their return. As more and more Chinese enrolled In PhD program in the sciences complete their studies, so will the concern over those who remain in the United States. iNational Science Foundation, Scicnec and Enginecring Doctorates: 196~86 (Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, 1988), NSF 88-309, p. 140.
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116 CHINESE STUDENTS IN AMERICA Finally, the loss of students also involves "loss of face" an es- pecially painful condition for the Chinese. Anxiety about what this Fight communicate to the rest of the world about China living and working conditions, professional opportunities available to her people, and, therefore, the viability of her system is greatly accen- tuated by distress over the conclusions that might be drawn by the people in Taiwan and In the highly politicized Chinese community in the United States, whose support and goodwill Beijing seeks. Even so, the "loss of faces issue with regard to defecting students would not be nearly as vexing to the Chinese leadership were it not for the relatively small proportion of student activists who speak and write against their government and who are accused by Beijing of conduct- ing "demagogical propaganda for counter-revolutionary ends." Since those who are promoting the sending of scholars abroad are already exposed politically, the loss of valuable people and the antigovern- ment activities by some are undoubtedly ammunition for opponents of the open door who, at a minimum, prefer not leaving it ajar. All these are serious concerns for the Chinese government, but they cannot be blamed on U.S. policies or congressional resolutions; they must be resolved by the Chinese themselves. The question of why some Chinese scholars choose to stay in the United States was discussed in some detail in the body of this report. Briefly, the an- swer centers on inadequate compensation and generally poor living conditions in China; on the residual mistrust of intellectuals, re- current intrusions of the state into the lives of individuals, and the related political considerations; and, for scientific personnel, China's inability to provide them with facilities, equipment, and projects that will challenge and satisfy their professional abilities and ambitions. It is not unreasonable to generalize that Chinese scholars with U.S. PhD degrees aspire to do basic research in an institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, rather than work in a production enterprise. Given China's current policies and capabilities, however, relatively few returning scientists can be accommodated in this way. Although there continue to be important pockets of basic research through- out the scientific establishment, the current emphasis is clearly on applied research and development-on the linking of research with production. Even the President of the Chinese Academy of Sci- ences, after a prescribed nod toward basic research, proclaimed that "the main scientific and technological forcer of the Academy must be sent "to the main battlefield of serving economic construction. - 2Zhou Guangshao, "The Chinese Academy of Sciences Advances in the
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CONCLUSION 117 And now that the responsibility system, which started in the coun- tryside in the early 1980s, has come to the scientific establishment, and most research and development funding (excluding mathematics and certain fields within the physical and biological sciences) must come from contractual agreements and consultations with produc- tion enterprises, opportunities in basic research for the thousands of returning scientists will be scarce indeed. Beijing's current effort to arrange for students to obtain practical experience while abroad makes sense in terms of the country's present needs, but in the case of students who are already here, it is targeting individuals whose original goals and training would make them reluctant participants. In sum, to reduce the numbers of students choosing to remain in the United States, China must make their return economically and professionally more attractive. There are other aspects to the student defection problem, how- ever, for which the U.S. side can share at least some of the respon- sibility. Beijing believes that not enough is being done by the vari- ous government agencies from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the U.S. Information Agency-to force Chinese nationals to comply with existing regulations and return home as scheduled. In theory, Chinese representatives understand that federal officials will neither dictate to academic and research institutions on their handling of Chinese students nor insist that special procedures, not applied to other foreign students, be introduced. In fact, it ~ difficult for the Chinese to see why unique circumstances and serious concerns of a friendly nation cannot be given special consideration, and they have requested at several high-level meetings that U.S. immigration laws be tightened.3 They suspect that much has to do with U.S. desires to appropriate China's most promising people. ~ less than one decade, Chinese students have made a signif- icant unpact on U.S. Institutions of higher education. University administrators involved in international student affairs resist making generalizations on the basis of student citizenship, but privately will confide that while Chinese students cause the greatest frustrations Course of Reform, Rennin Ribao (People Daily), March 28, 1987; FBIS, April 6, 1987, pp. K27-31. 3 The French government, for example, has pleased the Chinese by a recent proclamation that France will not support the tendency of Chinese students to stay and work in that country and that government-~ponsored students must return home after finishing their studies (Xinhua, Feb. 25, 1988; FBIS-CHI-88- 041, March 2, 1988, p. 10~.
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118 CHINESE STUDENTS IN AMERICA and take the most time, they also make a very positive impression and are an especially valuable addition to the U.S. academic community. This perception is even more prevalent among professors, especially those in science and engineering, who have come to place great re- liance on the competitive, intelligent, and hard-working students from China. In the course of the last several years, and despite lan- guage handicaps, Chinese PhD candidates and postdoctoral students have become qualified and highly attractive research and teaching assistants, and U.S. professors have come to depend greatly on them in sustaining many important programs. It should also be noted that with a serious shortage of U.S. graduate students, especially in fields of engineering, the Chinese are filling a recognized need. It would seem, then, the contention of Chinese officials that some U.S. professors and researchers try to entice Chinese students in science and technology to remain in this country, is not entirely without substance. Very likely some are doing just that, ignoring the appeals of Chinese officials to Work together" to assure the return of students. Nor is it an exaggeration to say that, for the most part, the attraction between Chinese students and their U.S. professors is mutual. It is easy to sympathize with Chinese concerns and as the number of Chinese students and scholars in the United States increases, so does the speculation as to how Beijing plans to address this problem. The latest spate of rumors about China's future plans for foreign study were precipitated by a State Education Commission document, which was published on November 28, 1987, but did not become public knowledge for several months. The directive set limits on the number of years a student can spend in the United States: one to two years for a master's degree, five years for a student with a bachelor's degree, and four years for a student with a master's degree seeking a doctorate.4 These new time limits provoked an open letter to Premier I,i Peng, signed by hundreds of Chinese students in U.S. universities. It was a long and cordial letter that listed all the reasons why time Innits are unreasonable, pointed out that it is in China's interest for the students to take full advantage of the academic and financial resources available to them in this country, and concluded with the hope that the leaders will "prevent further disharmony" by 4See, for example, Denis Hevesi, aChina Policy Shift on Study Overseas, New York Sims, April 8, 1988, p. As.
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CONCLUSION 119 re-examining the policies for overseas study and making appropriate adjustments. Although the November directive said nothing specific about reducing the number of students sent to the United States, it resulted in a number of articles in the U.S. press predicting drastic cuts on the basis of a misinterpretation of a statement that the number of astate-sponsore&~ students sent here will be limited to 20 percent.5 This brought quick denials by the Chinese government. The Xinhua news agency published an interview with Huang Xinbai, a member of the State Education Commission who is In charge of the foreign-study program, ~ which he affirmed that China's policy of sending students abroad has not changed and that rumors of cuts were groundless and Fabricated with ulterior motives."6 Huang further disclosed that in 1988, 4,600 students will be sent to the United States, of which 600 will be state-funded and 4,000 will be financed by various institutions and departments. Others wait continue to come as self- financed students. There ~ no reason to doubt Chinese assurances that thousands of their students and scholars will continue to come to the United States. China acknowledges that foreign education is still vital to her modernization plans and that U.S. institutions have the wherewithal to provide training and research experience unmatched elsewhere in the world. From the perspective of the scholar, and despite conflicting and fluctuating unages, the United States continues to be the country of choice and the idea of Corning here still evokes a subtle sensory stimulus unmatched by other countries. It is also no small matter that courses are taught in English, the ~inguafranca every Chinese student wants to master. The flow of Chmese students and scholars would not have persisted if this country did not meet academic expectations, furnish opportunities for financial support for study and research, and provide (with the help of a large Chinese community) a congenial environment. That is why sporadic efforts to send a larger proportion of scholars to Europe and Japan has never met with enthusiasm or success. Under the circumstances, it may not be too outlandish to suggest ~See, for example, Fox Butterfield, aChina Plans to Let Fewer Students Go Abroad, Especially to the U.S.," New York Times, March 24, 1988, p. At. 6 CD, April 7, 1988; also published as a special press release by the Chinese Embassy, Washington, D.C.
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120 CHINESE STUDENTS IN AMERICA that any serious restriction on the opportunity to study in Ameri- can institutions of higher education might precipitate a repeat of the winter of 198~1987 student demonstrations and even adversely affect the morale of the younger generation both undergraduates and those still In secondary schools. More important, policy restric- tions and the possible reaction to them on the home front would be completely counterproductive in terms of inducing Chinese scholars still in the United States to return home. Certainly the arrest, trial, and conviction of Yang Wei, who completed his graduate work at the University of Arizona, for writing articles attacking Chinese policies while in the United States aroused serious concerns among Chinese students abroad and at homed Tight controls over the sending of scholars to the United States would also have broader implications of considerable consequence for Beijing. Any such restrictions would send the wrong message to the outside world and once again raise questions with regard to the sincerity of China's open-door policy. This could quickly create diplomatic tensions that might spill over, not only into such vital areas as commercial ventures and the acquisition of technology, but also into routine but important contacts that now exist between the academic and research communities of the two countries. If we take China at her word, she hopes to minimize the likeli- hood of losing future students to the United States, not so much by reducing their numbers as by changing the qualifications and char- actermtics of those going abroad. Accepting the recommendations of Chinese scholars and officials who had looked into this problem over the years, Beijing will strive to limit foreign education, especially in the United States, to PhD and postdoctoral levels. Consequently, most of the new entrants to U.S. universities will have spent several years working or doing research at home, and their study and re- search abroad will be closely tied to the needs of their work unit. In other words, many more will stay In the United States for shorter periods of time and know exactly what they will be returning to. Considering China's mixed record of implementing announced poli- cies, we can only wait to see how closely this one will be followed and how many resourceful Chinese youths will find ways to circumvent it. In the meantime, certain changes have occurred on the U.S. side 7 See, for example, CD, Dec. 22, 1987, p. 3. ,,
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CONCLUSION 121 which may (unwittingly) facilitate China's implemention of the new regulations. There are now more Chinese students in the United States than all other nationals studying here. Not only has the novelty worn oh, but also many universities believe that students from China are already overrepresented on their campuses-often at the expense of U.S. and other foreign students. There also seems to be a decreasing amount of funding available for Chinese students. In some cases this reflects overall cuts in scholarship money; in other cases, specific departments that already have a number of Chinese graduate students are reluctant to add more before some of their compatriots complete their studies and leave. These factors and perhaps an unspoken U.S. desire to decrease the flow of Chinese students to this country may explain reports by some recent arrivals that although the lines in front of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China are as long as ever, visa officials are becoming more cautious and vigilant, and student visas are more difficult to obtain. Without in any way minimizing China's dilemma with regard to the loss of scholars, it is nevertheless important to consider to what extent students who remain in the United States undermine the goals of both modernization and the exchange program? Setting aside the issues of floss of face" and possible political backlash, and viewing the problem from the long-term strategic, commercial, and humanistic perspective, it is quite possible to conclude that, on balance, China's loss of a certain proportion of students should be neither a incomplete loss" nor a national crisis. Based on the experience of Chinese immigrants who came here in earlier decades, as wed as conversations with more recent arrivals, ties with the motherland are not easily broken. Short-term disillu- sionment tends to pass with tune, while long-term pride and good will toward China (if not toward the current regime) endures. Given the opportunity by Beijing, the young people will maintain contacts with family and friends, wiD return for visits, and will share much of what they have learned and the experience they have acquired with their colleagues at home. Graduates of U.S. universities who return to China and those who remain in the United States combine to increase the understanding between the two countries and can be invaluable in establishing both formal and informal lines of com- munications between their scientific, industrial, and even political establishments. In other words, students are not only Carriers of culture" (a possible minus), but also carriers of technical know-how (an indisputable plus). U.S.-educated Chinese intellectuals already
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122 CHINESE STUDENTS IN AMERICA serve as an important and multifaceted bridge in U.S.-China rela- tions, and as they mature and advance, their positive influence will only increase. Besides, China's current brain drain is not necessarily perma- nent. If China continues on the road to modernization, the in- evitable changes in the society will make the country more attractive to intellectuals who have been exposed to individual, economic, and professional freedoms and will prompt many of them to return. Oth- ers may become homesick, disillusioned with the United States, or both. Whether they return in three, five, or more years, they will naturally be much better equipped to make important contributions to China's development. In the final analysis, both Washington and Beijing must look at the present and potential issues raised by the defection of scholars from a much broader national perspective of self-interest. If an economically and politically healthy China is in the interests of the United States- and most believe it is and if close and friendly relations with the United States are in the long-term interest of China end most believe they are then, however Beijing decides to approach the problem of Chinese students who choose to remain in the United States, this issue should not become a major bone of contention in U.S.-China relations.
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