Chinese students in US a threat? FBI chief's claim slammed as 'irresponsible'

At a recent congressional hearing, FBI director Christopher Wray singled out Chinese students and scholars as a threat to US national security.
At a recent congressional hearing, FBI director Christopher Wray singled out Chinese students and scholars as a threat to US national security.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Recent testimony at a congressional hearing singling out Chinese students and scholars as a threat to US national security has prompted a strong response by Chinese-American politicians and other groups.

The comments were made last week in Washington during the US Senate Intelligence Committee's annual open hearing on the greatest threats facing the US. During the session, a host of intelligence community leaders shared concerns about dangers around the globe.

US Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who ran for president in 2016, and FBI director Christopher Wray discussed whether Chinese students in the United States could be covertly gathering intelligence for their government back home.

At one point Mr Rubio asked: "What…is the counter-intelligence risk posed to US national security from Chinese students, particularly those in advanced programmes in the sciences and mathematics?"

Mr Wray responded that Chinese students and scholars pose a national security threat that requires "a whole-of-society response by us".

Democratic US representatives Judy Chu and Ted Lieu of California and Grace Meng of New York released statements in response.

"I condemn these remarks entirely and reject these dangerous attempts to build a case that Chinese students, professors and scholars should be viewed with more suspicion than others," Ms Chu wrote.

She agreed that espionage threats from foreign countries should be taken seriously.

"However, Senator Rubio's leading question and FBI director Wray's sweepingly broad response were completely irresponsible generalisations that attempt to paint all Chinese students and scholars as spies for China," Ms Chu wrote.

She provided the examples of Sherry Chen and Xi Xiaoxing, two Chinese-American scientists who were accused of espionage by the FBI only to have the charges dropped without explanation.

"This caused irreparable harm to their careers, reputations and lives, and many Asian-American students, scientists and scholars now fear that they may be subjected to the same discrimination," Ms Chu wrote.

She called for the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in the US to not create an environment that encourages individuals to view Chinese and Chinese-Americans with more suspicion.

"There are certain policies and actions by our government that, while directed at foreign nationals, could affect Americans who happen to be of certain ethnicities," Mr Lieu wrote.

The Committee of 100 (C100), a non-profit leadership organisation of prominent Chinese-Americans, also released a statement about the testimony.

"The Committee of 100 is unequivocally committed to America's national security and recognises the importance of ensuring our nation is able to counteract perils from espionage," the statement said.

" However, C100 supports fair and appropriate investigation, prosecution and punishment of espionage that is based on the evidence and not on profiling or suspicion based on race, ethnicity or national origin."

C100 chairman Frank Wu said: "For over 160 years...Chinese immigrants, many of whom first arrived as students, have contributed immeasurably to the richness and success of the United States, including eight Chinese-Americans winning Nobel Prizes in the sciences while working in America.

"In every field, from the arts to the sciences, business to entertainment, politics to sports, Chinese-Americans are loyal and hardworking citizens no different than their neighbours."