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May 29, 2024, 12:39pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

US balances China espionage fears with ‘panda diplomacy’

Insights from Bloomberg, the BBC, Foreign Policy, and The Diplomat


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Ken Cedeno/Reuters
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The News

At least 20 Chinese students with valid visas have been refused entry into the United States since November, according to Bloomberg.

The students, who were pursuing programs at Harvard, Yale, and other top US schools, were reportedly questioned by Customs agents about their alleged affiliations to the Chinese communist party. Their visas were allegedly canceled regardless of their answers.

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The news comes as First Lady Jill Biden and officials announced China would send a new pair of giant pandas to the National Zoo in Washington DC by the end of the year, continuing the US and China’s history of “panda diplomacy” as a means of keeping communication channels open.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Panda diplomacy indicates some mutual understanding between US, China

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Source:  
Foreign Policy, The Diplomat

Despite having just hiked tariffs on many Chinese goods in the US, on the soft diplomacy front, Biden’s administration appears to have reached an entente with Chinese premier Xi Jinping. During a November meeting, the pair agreed to foster educational, business, and cultural ties. They had another two-hour video call in March, and several cabinet-level meetings have taken place. But underlying tensions continue to roil, and despite the pandas, both sides contend with “a host of negative trends that are only worsening,” The Diplomat wrote. One “welcome development” that is rumored to be coming soon, Foreign Policy columnist James Crabtree wrote: a military-to-military conversation.

Chinese espionage is an “epoch-defining challenge” for the West

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Source:  
BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg

America and its western allies have struggled to keep up with the growing threat of Chinese espionage — the head of British intelligence agency GCHQ, Anne Keast-Butler, described it as an “epoch-defining challenge.” Both the UK and Germany recently arrested people suspected of espionage for China, while the US has put limits on Chinese nationals, including on buying property and increasing tariffs on Chinese imported goods. The US has also expanded its list of companies it considers “security concerns” — notably TikTok, which is suing the US government citing an alleged breach of its free speech rights after lawmakers voted to ban it or force its sale to a US company.

Academia is a frequent target of Chinese espionage fears

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Source:  
The New Yorker

The expulsion of Chinese students from the US is the latest of episode in a series of incidents involving members of academia — primarily professors and researchers — accused of allegedly spying for China or having ties to the Chinese government and other institutions suspected of espionage. This is in part a result of the China Initiative, a 2018 government program targeting alleged Chinese spies working in research and industry. Many academics criticized the program as xenophobic, while others said they stifle scientific freedoms.


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