Don't tar HK students with US spy brush

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Apr 2019

It's disturbing to come across speculation that top American universities like the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology are cutting down on admissions of students from mainland China due to espionage fears.

If true, the next question would be how soon would Hong Kong students be affected if the SAR is run in a style closer to the "one country" rather than the "two-system" arrangement?

It was reported that in 2018, not even one high school graduate from the mainland managed to get through to MIT via its early admission program that selects 700 students from among 9,000 applications received globally.

Then last week, MIT announced it was curtailing its research cooperation with Huawei and ZTE, both Chinese technology giants accused by Washington of spying or working for Beijing.

And at about the same time as MIT's announcement, Indiana University decided to close the Confucius Institute set up by the Chinese government on its Indianapolis campus, effective immediately.

There are about 90 Confucius Institutes on US campuses, offering Chinese language and cultural programs. Sino-skeptics insist these institutes are part of the overseas operations of the Chinese Communist Party's United Front division and controlled by the education ministry.

It seems that US academia are starting to react to the "Chinese threat" fear spread by President Donald Trump.

Beijing has repeatedly denied it poses a threat to Western democracy. The problem is that even though speculation do not need to be based on established facts, it's enough for a perception to form for fears to spread.

Chinese accounted for about one third of the international admissions at US universities, and their growth stalled in recent years.

However, it would be too far-fetched to link the lack of growth - or even a decline - to espionage because, if that's the case, it'd have been only post-graduate admissions that would have been mostly affected. The situation with undergraduates began before the Trump administration.

For one thing, the reputation of Chinese students hasn't been as good as before after a chain of scandals involving cheating.

Cheating is stateless. That it is also practiced by some rich families in America is shown by an investigative report by the media recently that exposed how some Hollywood stars bribed to get their children into top schools like Stanford and Harvard?

But two wrongs don't make a right. It's bad when a Chinese student was made to sit an essay test before a professor and finished it in poor English - after submitting papers written in near perfect English.

It's also common in London to find classified ads in local Chinese-language newspapers selling thesis-writing services for a fee.

These may be isolated incidents, but they are enough to cast a shadow on the rest of the Chinese students.

Once a perception is formed, it's difficult to get rid of it.

It would be most unfortunate if Hong Kong students lose that which distinguishes them from their mainland peers and be viewed with similar skepticism?

As such, it may be politically correct to play up the "one country" slogan, but it's the "two systems" principle that gives Hong Kong its distinctive qualities.

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