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Biden Xi meeting “important signal” as Chinese student numbers decrease

President Biden’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart suggests a softening of tensions that experts believe could be an ‘important signal’ to Chinese students considering study in the US. 

Biden met the Chinese president for the first time in person in Indonesia on Monday. Photo: Unsplash.

There has been a sharp drop in the number of Chinese students choosing to study in the US

Biden met Chinese president Xi Jinping for the first time in person in Indonesia on Monday during the G20 summit. According to the White House, Biden told the Chinese leader that the US will continue to compete “vigorously” with China, but emphasised that this would be done responsibly. 

“He reiterated that this competition should not veer into conflict and underscored that the US and China must manage the competition responsibly and maintain open lines of communication,” the White House said in a statement. 

“They also noted the importance of ties between the people of the US and the PRC.” 

This could be a positive sign for US-China educational exchanges, experts have said. 

“The meeting between Biden and Xi was definitely softening the past tensions. This is an important signal to Chinese international students and their families,” said Andrew Chen, CEO of WholeRen Education and the current chair of NAFSA’s China interest group. 

“Chinese families pay a lot of attention to China-US relations”

“Chinese families pay a lot of attention to China-US relations,” said Xiaofeng Wan, associate dean of admission and coordinator of international recruitment at Amherst College.

“When the relationship is warm, they tend to be more open to the idea of sending their children to the US. When it’s going downhill, they are a bit concerned about getting their children caught in between the tensions of the two countries.”

It follows the release of new data showing that while China was still the top source market for international students in the US, there has been a sharp drop in the number of Chinese students choosing the country during the 2021/22 academic year.

“Geopolitical tensions and the anti-Asian racism, particularly that surge of anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, really concerned Chinese families, because if they cannot guarantee their children’s safety, it’s hard to convince them to send their children to a foreign country,” said Wan.

Former president Trump’s policies and rhetoric towards international students also turned Chinese families off, Wan added.

“When the Biden administration took office, they really changed the rhetoric completely to a very welcoming tone towards Chinese students,” he said.

“The Biden administration has been very clear that Chinese students are welcome here,” said Ethan Rosenzweig, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the bureau of educational and cultural affairs at the US Department of State, speaking at the release of the Open Doors data. 

“There’s no denying that China has been and continues to be an important partner in US international education,” said Mark Overmann, executive director at Alliance for International Exchange. “It’s heartening to see the kind of person-to-person diplomacy president Biden and president Xi are engaged in. 

“It remains to be seen what kind of impact these talks may have on student and scholar exchanges. But the US and China have been building personal and academic relationships for decades, and I’m hopeful that these relationships will keep our bilateral educational partnerships going strong.”

Looking to the future of exchange between the two countries, Wan called for a greater focus on how best to support international students “instead of talking about Chinese students simply from a perspective of a source of revenue”.

It comes a month after the Biden administration released the country’s latest national security strategy in which it prioritises out-competing China and attracting global talent. 

Writing for NAFSA, Jill Allen Murray, deputy executive director for public policy, noted that, “US efforts to counter Chinese competition in the tech sector… will fall short without increasing the flow of STEM talent from around the world to the US. That starts with welcoming these individuals to our colleges and universities.” 

NAFSA also called on the government to change its immigration policies in order to attract talent so that international student visa applicants do not have to claim they have no intention to stay in the US after graduation. 

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