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  • Is China's IR Academic Community Becoming More Anti-American?
  • Meng Weizhan

It is my impression that the majority of American scholars who study China and the majority of Chinese scholars who study the United States are committed to promoting friendly relations between the two countries and to helping their own people understand each other better. Unfortunately, their efforts are often misunderstood. Starting at the end of 2018, a disturbing rumor began to circulate in China's international relations (IR) academic community: several scholars told their peers that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was prohibiting them from visiting the United States. By April 2019, a report in the New York Times confirmed that "the FBI has mounted a counterintelligence operation that aims to bar Chinese academics from the United States if they are suspected of having links to Chinese intelligence agencies. … As many as 30 Chinese professors in the social sciences, heads of academic institutes, and experts who help explain government policies have had their visas to the United States canceled in the past year, or put on administrative review, according to Chinese academics and their American counterparts" (Perlez 2019). According to a report in the Global Times (Fan 2019), more than 280 Chinese scholars have been investigated or harassed by the FBI. These incidents have shocked academic circles in both China and the United States.

Perhaps the US government assumes that this is fair treatment for Chinese scholars because many American scholars have complained that they have been banned from entering China due to expressing views that offend the Chinese government. I fully support academic freedom and believe that all governments should be tolerant of any views expressed by scholars. Nevertheless, it is puzzling that the Chinese scholars whose visas have been canceled include some of those best known for their balanced views of the United States and its foreign policy. In order to verify this, we should explore whether the Chinese scholars whose US visas have been canceled have said anything that would harm the interests of the United States. If they have not done so, then they have been treated unjustly. [End Page 139]

I will also examine the changes in the perceptions of the US among mainstream IR scholars in China since President Donald Trump took office, focusing in particular on the period after the Sino-US trade war that began in June 2018. Despite the trade war, there is no evidence of a trend toward greater hostility among mainstream IR scholars in Beijing toward the United States. Many doves (wen he pai) with respect to US policies openly and strongly advocate pacifism, oppose nationalism, and call for maintaining friendly relations with the United States. Some well-known hawks (qiang ying pai) have also expressed their views that the Chinese government should seriously reflect upon its own domestic and foreign policy decisions to consider how it may prevent China from becoming isolated. In short, my conclusion, from extensive reading of these scholars' writings and listening to their public remarks, is that an overwhelming majority of Chinese IR scholars do not regard the United States as an enemy at all, and I argue that China should continue to reform its economic system and be more open to better integration with the Western-led international economic system. My assessment is that few among them advocate that the Chinese government should adopt tougher policies toward the United States or promote anti-American sentiment among the general public. China's state media and public opinion are indeed becoming increasingly anti-American, but mainstream IR scholars rarely publish extreme views in newspapers or new media.

In this essay, I examine the public views of IR scholars at universities and research institutions in Beijing. The vast majority of Chinese IR scholars and the editorial departments of academic and policy research journals on this subject are based in Beijing, and they are likely to have a direct impact on decision making within the Chinese government. In Beijing, there are only ten universities and institutions with a true academic and policy influence on China's strategies, including policies toward the United States. Four of these are top universities, namely Peking University...


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