U.S.-China Relations: A 2020 Perspective
The biggest question for international education professionals in the United States in 2021 will be whether the world can manage the COVID-19 pandemic so that students and faculty can again meet in person and travel abroad more freely. While the timing is unclear, the effectiveness of the new vaccines suggests the answer is a matter of when, not if.
The second biggest question will be far more difficult to resolve: Will tensions between the United States and China continue to escalate—and will students find themselves caught in the middle?
China has become, by far, the largest source of international students in the United States. In the past decade, the number of international students has more than tripled; in 2018–19, nearly 400,000 Chinese students studied in the United States, accounting for about 35 percent of all international students in the country.
The surge in Chinese students was the consequence of strategic calculations by both countries. For the United States, those students have been a huge asset to its scientific and engineering community, as well as an olive branch to Beijing intended to show the benefits that can come from cooperative engagement in the international community. For China, the surge represented a chance to send its best students to the world’s best universities, building human capital that was sure to pay benefits down the road.
Recent Actions and Consequences for Student Mobility
That “win-win” proposition, however, has gradually been weakening. Since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, China has been become increasingly