Yale News

Per a new State Department directive, Chinese diplomats must now seek permission before entering American college campuses, but experts say that this move will not be of great consequence to Yale. 

On Sept. 2, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that his department must grant senior Chinese diplomats permission before those officials can enter college campuses or meet with local government leaders. He added that this action is a move of reciprocity directed at Beijing, which he said already has systems in place that bar American diplomats and visitors from similar settings in China. 

Still, Yale’s Vice President for Global Strategy Pericles Lewis told the News that he does not think that the State Department’s announcement will affect Yale or its relationship with Chinese academia.

“Yale has been engaged with China longer than any other western university,” Lewis wrote in an email to the News. “Our relationships are focused on the interests of Yale scholars working in China or on Chinese matters, on students at Yale from China and on other Yale students who study abroad in China. Our joint work with Chinese university partners is already governed by an array of regulations, so I don’t think this State department requirement will affect that.”

Senior lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia Stephen Roach told the News in an interview that the new directive will likely not affect Yale, especially since in-person meetings have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Roach went on to say that the new directive is “another installment in a very crass political campaign” by President Donald Trump to create issues between Washington and Beijing, a relationship already strained by the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Since the pandemic began, Trump and his followers have, on many occasions, described the coronavirus as the “China virus,” prompting pushback from Chinese officials.

“These are threats, but they’re not evidence-based threats,” Roach said. “The same is true of the threat to ban visits of diplomats. It’s intimidation, but again it’s not based on any hard evidence that any diplomat has done anything against the United States during an official visit to our country or to any college campus.”

Roach added that tightening restrictions to Chinese diplomats fits alongside other moves by the Trump administration to cast China in a critical light — from the attempted banning of the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat to the debate over whether or not the video app TikTok should be removed from the United States because of Chinese involvement and security concerns. 

According to Roach, these moves are done in an effort to demonstrate to American voters that the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to contain Chinese influence. He cited an April post in Politico detailing the “Corona Big Book,” a strategic document drawn up by political consultants for mostly Republican senators, which says that in the case of the pandemic, the optimal political response for President Trump is to attack China. 

The State Department did not directly respond to a request for comment. Still, the department’s press release on the issue emphasized the need for reciprocal action voiced by Pompeo last week.

“The United States insists on reciprocal access to educational and cultural institutions for U.S. diplomats around the world,” a Sept. 2 release reads. “These new requirements on PRC diplomats are a direct response to the excessive restraints already placed on our diplomats by the PRC, and they aim to provide further transparency on the practices of the PRC government. Should the PRC eliminate the restrictions imposed on U.S. diplomats, we stand ready to reciprocate.”

Yale first began collaborating with China in 1835.