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Will US Protect Chinese Students?

AFTER the Tiananmen massacre, most of the 40,000 Chinese students studying in the United States have been kept in great anxiety and uncertainty about their future. Outraged by the fact that Chinese troops used tanks and machine guns to open fire on students, most of the Chinese studying in the US have shown support for fellow students in China. However, those engaged in pro-student activity here may be labeled ``counterrevolutionary'' at home. Few Chinese students believe the promises of no retribution made by Chinese officials here. Yang Wei, for example, a former University of Arizona graduate student, was arrested in Shanghai on July 17 for engaging in ``demagogical propaganda for counterrevolutionary ends.'' Harvard's Chinese Student Association polled 600 students in the US and found that fewer than 1 percent say they will return to China. Before the massacre, 58 percent were sure they would. Now, 54 percent think they will wait and see.

Recently, a group of Chinese students at the University of Washington sent Congress a letter. It read, ``We are rather disappointed that, unlike the Canadian government which has granted permanent residence status to all Chinese students there, the US government has not responded to our quandaries defintely. ... It would be a great irony that in this stronghold of freedom and liberty we should live in endless fear for our role in supporting freedom and democracy.''

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The situation seems grim. President Bush's one-year Extended Deferred Departure (EDD) is commendable but inadequate. Those with EDD can not keep their nonimmigrant legal status or apply for permanent residency. With no extension, one has to return to China after one year. Worse, applying for EDD can be seen as a clear sign of dissent to officials in China. Thus EDD puts Chinese students in a Catch-22 limbo.

About 32,000 Chinese students hold a J-1 US visa, obligating them to return home for two years before they can change their legal status. However, most foreign students here hold an F-1 visa which has no such restriction. The reason, as Chinese students and others informed Congress, is that Beijing required a J-1 visa in order for a student to leave China. Last month, 116 House members signed a letter to the president urging him to waive the ``two-year requirement.'' But as of today, the administration has neither done so, nor explained why.

Despite this disappointing tact, several other options exist. Many bills for the protection of Chinese students have been proposed and debated in Congress. On July 11, for example, the Mitchell-Dole Amendment was introduced - waiving the two-year requirement for Chinese students holding a J-1 visa and extending their visas until June 5, 1992, granted China is again ``safe.'' The Gorton Amendment extends the visas for four years and allows Chinese students to apply for temporary residence if China is not in fact safe. The Mitchell-Dole and Gorton bills passed unanimously.

In the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) of California and 250 cosponsors introduced a bill to waive J-1. It passed July 31. Five other bills are pending.

Of course there is the possibility that President Bush may veto the bills. The administration has opposed them so far, despite their bipartisan nature.

The State Department and US Information Agency testified on July 20 that the above legislation may create problems for future Chinese students seeking study in the US. They argued that waiving the J-1 visa's requirements may jeopardize future programs with China, and possibly a different Chinese regime.

It is possible that the Chinese government may try to prevent students from coming to the US; that would be a tragedy. The Chinese gain much from the exchanges. But Beijing needs to understand that, as Rep. Bruce Morrison (R) of Connecticut indicated, the principles of freedom and democracy are such that ``we will not be held hostage to some future decision by a totalitarian government. If the People's Republic of China wishes these students to come home, it must do so by bringing them back by ... the behavior of the Chinese government, not by the laws of the United States.''

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The administration's opposition just does not make any sense. It will be a tragedy should the US government sacrifice the principles of freedom and democracy upon which it is erected, and force 40,000 Chinese students into the claws of the current Chinese regime.

For over a half-century the world has looked to the US as the beacon of freedom, a refuge for the oppressed. The legislation in front of Congress addresses an urgent need to give 40,000 Chinese students relief. Whether they eventually stay or go home, those Chinese students will be eternally grateful to the American people who met their deepest needs. Finally, the legislation would send a strong, unmistakable message to the Chinese regime: The slaughter, arrest, and persecution of pro-democracy students in China will not be tolerated by the civilized world. Forces of democracy and freedom will not be deterred by forces of brutality. They will instead thrive and prevail.

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