2 GOP Senators Propose Bill To Deny Chinese Nationals Student Visas Amid Growing Tensions With China

tom cotton chinese students study
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has for months accused China of "lying" about their coronavirus outbreak numbers, said Sunday it's a "scandal" that American universities have "trained the Communist Party's brightest minds." Screenshot: Fox News

Two Republican senators are pushing legislation that would block Chinese nationals from receiving visas to study science and engineering fields in the United States.

"The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States," Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said in a statement on his decision to seek new student visa restrictions.

The move comes as tensions mount between the United States and Beijing over the handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, treatment of Hong Kong and reports of China's attempts to steal research done in the U.S.

"Beijing exploits student and research visas to steal science, technology, engineering and manufacturing secrets from U.S. academic and research institutions," Cotton's co-sponsor, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), said in a statement. "We've fed China's innovation drought with American ingenuity and taxpayer dollars for too long; it's time to secure the U.S. research enterprise against the CCP's economic espionage."

President Donald Trump hinted this week that he's exploring options to reduce visas from China.

After a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, Trump declined to elaborate on his plans for restrictions but called the effort "very important."

"We're doing something now," Trump told reporters. "I think you'll find it very interesting, but I won't be talking about it today. I'll be talking about it over the next couple of days."

The U.S. State Department declined Newsweek's request for comment or more details.

Pompeo told reporters last week that the United States had "underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations."

"The whole world is waking up to that fact," he said.

Pompeo said the Chinese government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan "accelerated our more realistic understanding of communist China."

"President Xi [Jinping] claimed this week that China has acted 'with openness, transparency, and responsibility,'" Pompeo said. "I wish it were so."

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek.

Under Cotton and Blackburn's bill, which they have dubbed the SECURE CAMPUS Act, Chinese nationals who want to study science and technology fields in the United States would not qualify for student visas they would need to do so. The legislation provides waivers for members of oppressed religious or ethnic groups and would give the president waiver authority on a case-by-case basis. It would not apply to students who are natives of Taiwan or Hong Kong.

It additionally would require universities, labs and other research institutions that receive federal funds to vow that they would not knowingly support participants of China's so-called "foreign talent recruitment" programs, that critics have blasted as promoting economic espionage.

"The SECURE CAMPUS Act will protect our national security and maintain the integrity of the American research enterprise," Cotton said.

Cotton hinted at his plans during a Sunday Morning Futures interview on Fox News last month.

"It's a scandal to me that we have trained so many of the Chinese Communist Party's brightest minds to go back to China to compete for our jobs, to take our business, and, ultimately, to steal our property and design weapons and other devices that can be used against the American people," he said during the April 26 interview. "I think we need to take a very hard look at the visas that we give to Chinese nationals to come to the United States to study, especially at the postgraduate level in advanced scientific and technological fields. If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that's what they need to learn from America. They don't need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America."