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White House considers blocking Chinese citizens from U.S. research universities to prevent espionage

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: May 9th, 2018

The White House is considering strict measures to block research done by Chinese citizens at American universities over fears of espionage and intellectual property theft, the New York Times reports.

The potential move is part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to combat China as a growing national security threat. That effort has included tariffs on Chinese goods and potential restrictions on Chinese investment in the U.S.

The White House is reportedly considering restricting certain types of visas or expanding rules on Chinese researchers who work on projects with intelligence or military value. Though it is not clear how many people could be affected by such a move, it is likely that restrictions would fall most heavily on graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and tech employees in the U.S. on temporary visas.

While American research institutes are admittedly vulnerable to espionage due to their open nature, putting up barriers to protect American technology could restrict the free flow of information that leads to innovation at U.S. labs, where talented scientists from around the world come together to perform important research. It could also be pose a financial hardship to American research universities that accept international students, who often pay full tuition.

Some groups see the potential move as overtly discriminatory. According to the Committee of 100, a group of prominent Chinese-Americans, “To target a whole group of people as being subject to greater suspicion, based purely on race and national origin, and in advance of any facts or evidence, goes against the fundamental American ideals of the presumption of innocence, due process and equal protection for all. It also fans the flames of hysteria.”

David R. Smith, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University, acknowledges that cybersecurity is a real issue at universities, but that researchers should be better educated about the issue, rather than denied access because of it. “With reasonable safeguards, I think we can manage it,” says Smith. “If we were to overreact, I think it could be very damaging to our universities.”

Source: The New York Times

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