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Students, Researchers Are Latest Victim Of Trade War As China Warns Against US Crackdown

"Strengthen your risk assessment."

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, delivered the latest warning in the trade war on Monday, via tweet, as he’s wont to do.

“Based on information I received, China will issue a warning on the risk of studying in the US”, Hu said. “This warning is a response to recent series of discriminatory measures the US took against Chinese students and can also be seen as a response to the US-initiated trade war.”

Hu, you’re reminded, often tweets on behalf of Beijing, although his musings aren’t “official”, as such. It was Hu who last month teased the “dumping” of US Treasurys, for instance.

Read more: China Ignores Trump Threat, Retaliates, Teases Treasury Nuke

Later, China’s education ministry issued a statement. It reads as follows:

For some time, some of the visas for Chinese students studying in the United States have been restricted, with the review period extended, the period of validity shortened and the refusal rate increased. The Ministry of Education reminds students and scholars to strengthen risk assessments before studying abroad, enhance their awareness of prevention and make appropriate preparations.

This comes amid heightened review and surveillance of foreign students and researchers under the Trump administration. Late last month, Emory fired Li Xiaojiang and his wife, Li Shihua, two Chinese-American genetics professors who, according to the university, “failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China”.

“Emory has shared this information with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the faculty members are no longer employed at Emory”, the university said.

Subsequent reports from Zhishi Fenzi (a Chinese science website), indicated that Li’s laboratory was shuttered on May 16 while he was away on leave in China. Computers were reportedly seized and his staff was questioned. Here’s a bit of background on that, from Science:

The two researchers, known for their studies of Huntington disease in mouse and pig models, are both US citizens and have worked at Emory for 23 years. Li Xiao-Jiang says he was traveling in China on 16 May when both researchers were informed they had been terminated. The university has also closed their joint laboratory, which is part of the medical school, and their websites are no longer accessible. Four postdoctoral students working in the lab, who are Chinese nationals, have been told to leave the United States within 30 days, he told Science Insider today. None, he says, was given reasons for their terminations.

“I was shocked that Emory University would terminate a tenured professor in such an unusual and abrupt fashion and close our combined lab consisting of a number of graduates and postdoctoral trainees without giving me specific details for the reasons behind my termination,” he said in a statement.

“I have disclosed my Chinese research activity to Emory University each year since 2012,” Li Xiao-Jiang said. “I have provided documents requested by Emory University during the investigation of my research activity in China since early November 2018.” He also stated that he has not received “any copy of investigation that was sent to NIH by Emory, though I have requested Emory to give it to me.”

Li Xiao-Jiang declined to provide more specific information about the charges against him and his wife. But he said the termination came after Emory officials recently inspected material in his university email account.

Obviously, that’s not great. And if you read the linked article from Science, you’ll discover that Li isn’t the only researcher being, well, being researched. NIH earlier this year notified Congress of nearly 200 NIH grantees with foreign ties that should be scrutinized. More than four-dozen institutions are now conducting investigations tied to those inquiries.

Bloomberg on Monday cites CCTV in noting that according to Education Ministry spokeswoman Xu Mei, “American universities remain open to cooperation and welcome Chinese students despite the current trade tensions [and] the number of students studying in the US [is] stable.”

Suffice to say it might not be “stable” for very long, and not because the US isn’t taking any Chinese applications – but rather because Beijing may decide to simply restrict Chinese students from studying in America for fear of what fate might befall them. Analysts have long warned that the trade war risks a situation where students lose the opportunity to study abroad.

Yale is furious – in a Yale kinda way. President Peter Salovey penned an irritated open letter last month affirming the university’s commitment to international students amid the Trump administration’s efforts to scrutinize them for evidence of aiding and abetting IP theft.

“In recent weeks, tensions in United States–China relations and increased scrutiny of academic exchanges have added to a sense of unease among many international students and scholars here at Yale and at universities across the country”, Salovey wrote. After an obligatory nod to the university’s seriousness in complying with laws and regulations “that safeguard our research enterprise… from the theft of intellectual property”, Salovey insists on Yale’s “unequivocal commitment [to] international students and scholars [who] are welcome and respected on our campus.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang agreed. Asked about Salovey’s letter last Monday, Lu said “[cultural exchange] should not be politicized and interfered with.” No matter how bad the trade war gets, impeding that exchange “is inconsistent with the aspirations of the two peoples and has caused widespread concern among the academic circles of China and the United States and all sectors of society”, Lu said.

On Friday morning, as he landed in the UK for a state visit, Trump pounded the table. “Many firms are leaving China for other countries, including the United States, in order to avoid paying the Tariffs”, he said, without citing any specific examples. “[There’s] no visible increase in costs or inflation, but US is taking Billions!”, he added.

You’ll note that the “no visible increase in inflation” line is only true at the aggregate level. When you drill down, it’s clearly visible. And once the next round of tariffs kick in, consumers will begin to feel it nearly across the board.

(Goldman)

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