With the Biden administration set to reverse some Trump administration policies, former U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke has called for relaxing restrictions that the previous president imposed on Chinese students and scientists.
"Diversity is our strength. ... I'm hoping that with the Biden administration and the relaxation of these visa policies, it will bring back international students who really contribute to the fabric and discussion of all students," Locke said at a recent webinar hosted by the Committee of 100.
Chinese students and scientists were under intensified scrutiny over "national security" concerns by the Trump administration, which profiled them as "spies", making for an increasingly hostile environment for them to study and conduct research in the U.S.
The Trump administration launched the "China Initiative" in 2018 with the aim of investigating cases of economic espionage. The program has resulted in dozens of prosecutions.
Due to that action, scientists and researchers with ties to China are "under great suspicion and being prosecuted for even paperwork missteps", said Locke, also a former governor of Washington state and former U.S. secretary of commerce.
The latest case is that of Gang Chen, a professor and nanotechnology expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was charged with failing to disclose to the U.S. Department of Energy millions of dollars in funding he allegedly received from China. He was arrested and released on bail last month.
Chen's lawyers last week asked a federal judge to sanction local U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling for making "false, highly inflammatory" statements to the public in announcing grant-fraud charges against Chen.
"Look at all the scrutiny of Chinese American scientists and even many of our high-tech entrepreneurs that have some ties with China ... that stereotyping is having a negative effect," he said.
With the deteriorating U.S.-China relationship and the rhetoric from the Trump administration, such as "China virus" and "kung flu", Locke said the state of the Chinese community in the U.S. has "gone backwards" compared with 10 years ago.
"That's very troubling because it ignores the incredible contributions, loyalty, patriotism of Chinese Americans for more than a century and a half, starting with the railroad," he said.
The railroad Locke referred to is the Transcontinental Railroad in the U.S. that was completed in 1869. Chinese workers did much of the most dangerous and backbreaking work, and it is estimated that nearly 1,200 of them died from work-related accidents, avalanches and explosions.
"Then they stayed over, working in the gold mines, coal mines and canneries, which really helped build prosperity of essentially the West Coast ... and yet we endured things like the Chinese Exclusion Act," said Locke.
"We need to remember: America is a land of foreigners, except for the Native Americans, we are all foreigners. And it's that wave after wave of immigrants and new people with ideas, culture, language, customs, thought processes that has made America the incredible innovative engine of discovery and excitement," he said.
As to the U.S.-China relationship, Locke said it needs to be improved.
"It's the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world today. The U.S.-China relationship impacts not just our two countries but really the entire world, and the world is looking for leadership from both the United States and China working together to solve many of the issues facing the globe, whether it's trying to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons to climate change," he said.
He also suggested that the Biden administration be "very smart" about how to approach issues between the two countries.
"I'm sure that the Biden administration, which has put together an outstanding team, will approach these with great seriousness, but they'll be very strategic in doing it because they're not going to tar and feather everything China-related or Chinese-related with the same brush, because we also need to work with the Chinese on climate change, finding a cure for cancer, handling pandemics, et cetera," Locke said.