August 24, 2019 | From the Washington Times
America’s plan to catch China in the race to deploy super-fast hypersonic weapons may begin in college classrooms.
Academic leaders, lawmakers, and military and intelligence officials say Washington needs to take a harder look at the number of Chinese who come to the U.S. to study engineering, aeronautics, astronautics, quantum mechanics and other fields that have direct connections to national security. The massive influx of Chinese students in recent years, they say, has led directly to Beijing’s advantage in the development of hypersonics and other cutting-edge technology — though U.S. officials say privately that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to track individual cases of students gaining specific insights in a given area and then taking that knowledge back home.
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The issue of China’s “academic espionage” raises delicate questions about discrimination and academic freedom, and the education and military sectors have struggled to strike the right balance between protecting classified research and attracting the diverse, international student base prized by top universities.
(Editor’s note: IFA knows a college administrator who has explained part of the influx of Chinese students in American universities. The declining birth rates in the U.S. have left colleges in crisis–there are more spots for college students than college-age young men and women. So, colleges turn to foreign countries to fill their rolls, sometimes even offering scholarships to entice foreign students.)
The strength and depth of the American higher education system are seen as a strategic asset for the U.S., one that could be weakened if classrooms and research labs are closed to certain populations.
Academic leaders say Washington needs to lead the way in developing a comprehensive strategy to counter China’s long-term efforts to use America’s institutions for its own gain. Relying on individual professors or universities to police themselves, scholars say, is ineffective. . . .
Beijing has also explicitly targeted ethnic Chinese students, entrepreneurs and high-tech researchers working abroad to come home through its Thousand Talents Plan. The effort has become so sensitive that Chinese officials reportedly have been told not to identify the foreign scholars and figures whom they are trying to lure back home.
Hypersonics — weapons or aircraft that can travel at least five times the speed of sound — is one area where China is outpacing the U.S., partly by sending large numbers of its top students to American colleges. Those students often pay full tuition upfront, making them highly coveted in university admissions offices. . . .
In the 2017-2018 academic year, over 360,000 Chinese were studying at American institutions. A decade ago, the figure was 100,000.
Although the vast majority of Chinese students attend school in the U.S. for straightforward academic reasons, others — and in some cases professors — come with close ties to the government in Beijing.
A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute last year said China’s People’s Liberation Army had paid for at least 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad, including in the U.S.