Dear Mr. President, I am Not a Spy


Photo courtesy of Quartz

President Trump has doubled down on his contention that the Chinese students coming to the United States to study have nefarious intentions. He made headlines in August 2018 with his speech given at a dinner with CEOs in New Jersey. According to reporters on the scene, he claimed that “almost every student that comes over” to the U.S. from China “is a spy.”Even though President Trump is notoriously known for spitting out extreme opinions, the effect is much deeper than a government official being suspicious of students coming from a country that is not entirely friendly. In this case, Trump’s words resonate with fellow party members and their followers, and can influence the policies issued by the U.S. government. 

It’s important to have some context before delving into the complicated matter of Chinese students coming to the United States. Presently, there are an estimated 350,000 students from China in the United States studying at colleges and universities. The ongoing collaboration between students in both countries has yielded significant accomplishments for all parties involved. Yet, the Chinese Education Ministry has issued a new warning for its students who are studying abroad in the United States. Many changes to the policy have already been implemented. There has been a sharp decrease in the number of visas that are being issued to students along with long renewal periods for the visas. The difficulties being imposed upon these students from China shows that the US government has already begun to influence the Chinese students seeking further education.

Trump’s position is that the best way to reduce the potential or imagined threat is to remove students and professors from colleges and research opportunities in order to limit their potential harm to the nation. That is foolhardy at best, and could be considered racist in a country that is not even a century removed from internment camps for others from Asia. If there is a true threat to the U.S. from Chinese students, then removing work opportunities is the last thing that the government would want to do.

Of course, this suspicion didn’t come out of nowhere. It is worth noting that there have been cases where Chinese students have been identified as spies in the past. While spying programs occurring on U.S. soil by China are significant problems within the U.S., the prevalence is decidedly being overblown by the likes of the President and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. In all, eight students were allegedly involved in nefarious activity. The vast majority of students have been nothing but hardworking students and professor. 

It’s time for the government to consider backtracking on their statements about Chinese students being spies. While there have been extremely rare cases where students were approached about cooperation, there are far more cases of incredible breakthroughs and accomplishments occurring due to cooperation between Chinese and American students and professors. Should the U.S. government take a close look and monitor those who are coming into their country? Absolutely, and any country is well within its right to do so. However, having a nation’s leader come out and condemn thousands of successful individuals as spies is both wrong and harmful, especially when such off the cuff remarks can influence national policies in the ways mentioned. Hopefully, these restrictions are lessened over time so that international students can continue having an impact on the world.