America will collapse

The US is culturally decoupling from China : No correspondents, no students, no language courses

Minxin Pei is Professor of Political Science at Claremont McKenna College and a non-resident Senior Fellow with the United States' German Marshall Fund. Translated from the English by Harald Eckhoff. Copyright: Project Syndicate,

The "disengagement" is central to the geopolitical duel between the United States and China. This strategy, devised and promoted by the hawks in US President Donald Trump's administration, is now America's main tool to weaken Chinese power.

The first act of decoupling - the Sino-American trade war that began in 2018 - significantly reduced bilateral trade. A similar process is now taking place in the technology sector. The US is waging a relentless campaign against Chinese tech giants like Huawei and ByteDance, the owner of the popular TikTok video app.

And with the threat from the Trump administration to ban Chinese companies from the US stock exchanges if they do not give American auditors access to their accounts in China, the financial decoupling has already begun.

Although it remains to be seen whether China can be kept in check by the economic decoupling, at least the strategic logic behind it sounds impressive: Since China benefits from its economic ties to the US, capping them will inevitably weaken Chinese growth.

The Fulbright exchange program was canceled in July

Unfortunately, the US hawks are still not satisfied with this and also want to end America's cultural and educational ties with China - as their recent actions show. Earlier this year, pressure from Republican lawmakers forced the Peace Corps, which had sent over 1,300 Americans to China since 1993, to end its program in the country. And in July, Trump canceled the American Fulbright scholarship program in mainland China and Hong Kong - as part of US sanctions against the Chinese government's new security laws in the city.

In late May, two Republican politicians proposed a law to prevent Chinese nationals from studying math, computer science, science and technology (STEM) subjects in the United States. And on August 13, the US State Department declared the Confucius Institute US Center, a Chinese government-sponsored institution offering language programs, a "foreign mission," which will almost certainly end its activities in the US.

Journalism is already disconnected

However, journalism suffered the fastest disconnection. After that Wall Street Journal In early February, the Chinese government expelled three of the newspaper's journalists from the country after posting a comment headline that referred to China as the "really sick man in Asia".

The US retaliated in early March by forcing 60 Chinese citizens who worked for state-owned Chinese media companies in America to leave the country. As a result, China expelled all US citizens who worked for the "New York Times", the "Wall Street Journal" and the "Washington Post" from the country - and thus ultimately blocked the possibility of these publications from the Middle Kingdom to report.

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Cutting cultural, educational, and journalistic ties between the United States and China is unwise and counterproductive for America. Instead of pursuing long-term strategic goals by propagating American values ​​and maintaining a moral upper hand, the Trump administration plays into the hands of the Chinese government, which sees these connections as a means of ideological and cultural infiltration by the United States.

Without government-sponsored exchange programs like Fulbright or the Peace Corps, the US would no longer have direct channels to reach ordinary Chinese citizens, especially the youth. Through these programs, Americans teach English, American history and literature, and Western social sciences - often in remote areas of China that have little contact with the outside world.

Such activities help the Chinese people gain a better understanding of the United States and help neutralize official anti-American propaganda. Ending these programs thus amounts to unilateral ideological disarmament of the USA.

The expulsion of 60 Chinese journalists was inappropriate

A certain amount of US revenge against Chinese harassment of American journalists seems sensible. But the Trump administration's inappropriately expulsion of 60 Chinese journalists gave the Chinese government an excuse to do something it had been planning to do: kick out the best American reporters.

The massive mutual expulsions of American and Chinese journalists will do much more harm to America than China. While reporters from the Chinese state-owned news media in the US hardly provide reliable and independent reporting to educate the Chinese public, American journalists in China - despite constant harassment and surveillance by the Chinese government - provide invaluable information about the country. Without these channels, US politicians will no longer be able to track decisive developments in China.

Exclude Chinese students from STEM subjects?

And if the Americans also exclude Chinese students from STEM subjects in the US, it will cost the US enormous talent in this area and promote China's progress. Talented Chinese will instead go to other developed countries to study - and many of them will then return home because career opportunities in STEM subjects outside the US are not so good.

While China benefits from this reverse “brain drain”, the US will have to forego the contributions of tens of thousands of engineers and scientists. Of the 31,052 doctoral degrees in all STEM subjects in the US between 2015 and 2017, 16 percent were Chinese students, including 22 percent in engineers and 25 percent in mathematicians. In addition, about 90 percent of Chinese science and engineering students stay in the United States for at least ten years after completing their doctorate - the highest proportion of any nationality.

Relations between the US and China are on the verge of collapse. The economic decoupling is already visible, and the cultural separation emanating from the US - which would have been unthinkable not so long ago - could also become a reality. It would be a tragedy and America would be the biggest loser.

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