A Chill for Chinese Exchanges?

A draft law that would require foreign nongovernmental organizations to register their activities with police authorities in China has American universities worried about a chilling effect on educational exchanges of all types.

The draft law defines foreign NGOs broadly and is sweeping in its scope, seemingly applying not only to universities that have physical locations in China but also to any institution that so much as sends a single student or professor there. If an American university were to conduct an international research conference in China, that would seem to require registration under the law. So would sending a faculty member there to interview applicants for a graduate program. Or sending a professor to give a lecture or take part in a joint research project. Or organizing a networking event for alumni in China. Or sending a student singing group to participate in a competition there.

Those are all examples of types of potentially affected activities mentioned in joint comments submitted to the Chinese government by 12 U.S. universities, including two Ivies (Columbia and Cornell) and other institutions with long-standing ties in China (among them Duke, Johns Hopkins and New York Universities, and the University of Michigan).

“We are very concerned that the requirements of the draft law may have a dampening effect on both existing and future initiatives,” the universities wrote in their comments. “Nonmainland [or foreign] universities, especially smaller nonmainland universities and nonmainland universities with more limited programs in China, may decide that the complexity of the registration process, the ongoing operational requirements, and the related financial and administrative burdens necessitate modifying, temporarily suspending or even closing their programs.”

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