Since the 2010s, U.S. officials have voiced concerns that the Chinese government may attempt to influence or exploit Chinese students on study abroad programs in its quest for foreign technology. Some Chinese student associations at U.S. universities have spoken out about the Chinese government’s efforts to provide unwanted “guidance.” However, in the first half of 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice charged several Chinese students with committing visa fraud and acting as agents of the People’s Republic of China. The extent to which the PRC government may attempt to influence Chinese students, by what means, and how to respond, remain the subjects of debate in the United States.
One avenue by which the Chinese government could exert influence over students is through scholarship and exchange programs. This paper synthesizes Chinese-language resources on the China Scholarship Council—the primary vehicle by which the Chinese government provides scholarships. It describes the characteristics and features of the CSC’s largest programs but does not attempt to assess the intent of these programs beyond what is explicitly stated by Chinese primary sources.
- The CSC sponsors about 12 percent of foreign students studying in China in a given year (roughly 65,000 students) and seven percent of Chinese students studying abroad (again, approximately 65,000 students).
- The CSC’s largest study abroad scholarship programs are for Chinese graduate students.
- No more than 18 percent of Chinese students in the United States receive funding from the CSC, but the number is likely closer to seven percent (about 26,000 students).
- The CSC strongly encourages, and in some cases requires, Chinese scholarship recipients to return to work in China after completing their studies abroad, regardless of country of study.
- Despite this pressure, more than 85 percent of U.S.-based Chinese STEM PhD students intend to stay in the United States.
- More recently, the CSC has drastically increased the number of cooperative training programs it sponsors between elite foreign universities and Chinese research institutions, some of which are subject to U.S. export controls or affiliated with China’s defense industrial base.