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Loss of Chinese students would blunt US tech edge

By John F. Copper | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-10 09:16
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Much has been said and written about the immoral, unfair and revolting aspects of the recent surge in the ill treatment of Asians in the United States. It ranges from unkind comments and threats to looting and burning of their property, physical attacks and even killings.

There is, however, less awareness of the long-term harm this has done, and will do, to the US as a country and as a global power.

Most of the Asian students coming to the United States major in the hard sciences. In fact, they stand out in these classes.

Asian students, if it were not for affirmative action and racial quotas that limit their numbers, would account for half of the students in math and science classes in the Ivy Leagues and other top universities in the US.

Asian students resent the racial discrimination in US college and university admissions practice. In fact, led by Chinese students, they sued Harvard University over its bias. A similar suit was filed against Yale, which the Department of Justice recently rejected.

Chinese are the largest group among Asians in the US. They also report-83 percent of them-being the victims of racial discrimination, abuse, even physical attacks, compared with 50 percent of Asians generally. They also say that racial attacks against them have increased this year. This is no doubt partly a product of strained relations between the US and China that characterized the latter part of the Trump administration and the initial posturing of the current Biden administration toward China.

It connects to the large number of Chinese students in the US-around 375,000, the largest cohort of foreign students in the country. The number has also constantly risen in recent years.

However, according to Chinese media, it will decline this year, as indicated by agencies involved in helping students apply to US colleges and universities seeing a decline in that part of their business-while the number of Chinese students applying to go abroad for advanced study continues to increase.

For Chinese students and their parents and Chinese living in the US, this is the top issue they cite when asked what they don't like about the US or when they talk about racial discrimination.

Many link this to the racial attacks against them and other Asians. Many also attribute it to other minorities resenting Asians being called the model minority for their stellar accomplishments in business, science and education.

Because of this, many of the "brains" among the Chinese students who graduate from top US centers of learning go back to China. Some even go after they have become eminent in their fields. In 2010, the number passed 2,200, and it doubled over the next seven years. Now the numbers are accelerating faster.

Chinese have gained prominence in founding high-tech companies such as Zoom. They account for almost half of the PhD degrees earned by foreign students in the sciences in the US.

If Chinese students leave in larger numbers, it will dent the US lead in science and technology.

In addition to racial bias, they are motivated by the fact that China has more money to pay them well on their return, and it spends more in critical areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computers and robotics.

It is also ahead of the US in research facilities and now has the advantage of critical mass in terms of personnel with advanced training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

If the Asian hate trend and the admissions bias against Asians are not reversed quickly, the US may face the serious consequences of its short-sighted racial policies.

The author is the Stanley J.Buckman Professor of International Studies (emeritus) at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He has written more than 35 books on China and US-Asia policy.

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