Fri, Jun 07, 2019 - Page 6 News List

US lawmakers eye Chinese spy threat in academia

CONTRIBUTIONS:Opponents warned against making immigrants feel unwelcome and highlighted the millions of dollars Chinese students pour into the US economy

Reuters and the Guardian, WASHINGTON

Some US lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would make it harder for Chinese students and academics to work in the US, citing security concerns as a trade dispute rages between Washington and Beijing.

The members of US Congress, mostly US President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, are writing bills that would require more reporting from colleges, universities and laboratories about funds from China, prohibit students or academics with ties to the Chinese military from entering the US or set new limits on access to sensitive academic research.

Failure to comply could mean financial hardship.

The proposed bills add to growing pressure against Chinese students, academics, firms and other organizations in the US.

Amid the escalating trade dispute between China and the US, members of Congress have become increasingly concerned that the thousands of Chinese students, professors and researchers in the US could pose a security threat by carrying sensitive information back to China.

Republican US Senator John Cornyn on Wednesday said that he hoped to win bipartisan support for the “Secure our Research Act,” a bill he plans to introduce next week to prompt US institutions to do more to protect valuable research.

“We are under attack,” Cornyn said at a US Senate Committee on Finance hearing examining foreign threats to US research. “Their [China’s] goals are to dominate the United States military and economically.”

Cornyn, who is also a member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called US academia “naive” about the threat from China.

He warned that he would not vote for any plan to give taxpayer dollars to public institutions unless they improve security.

Many of the individual bills face little chance of passing, despite growing bipartisan concern in Congress over security risks from China.

While Trump and many other Republicans want stricter controls on immigration, as well as a hard line on China, Democrats, who control the US House of Representatives, have warned about the risks of making immigrants feel unwelcome.

“Foreign-born scientists put Americans on the moon. They worked on the Manhattan Project. Nearly a third of all American Nobel laureates were born outside the US,” said Senator Ron Wyden, another intelligence committee member who is the ranking Democrat on the finance panel.

Lawmakers from both parties, as well as university officials, point to the multimillion-dollar contribution to the US economy from the 350,000 Chinese in the US for undergraduate or graduate studies.

“We believe that the overwhelming number of international students from all countries come here with the best of intentions and we should continue to encourage them to come,” American Council on Education senior vice president Terry Hartle said.

However, small pieces of the measures could make their way into broader, must-pass bills, like the massive annual National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently making its way through Congress.

Separately, intelligence officials believe that China might have been behind a massive data breach that compromised the personal details of thousands of Australian National University students and staff.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that senior intelligence officials have pointed the finger at China as one of only a few countries capable of pulling off the hack, which compromised up to 19 years’ worth of personal data from students and staff.

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