Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has been vocal about holding the Chinese government responsible for any role it played in the COVID-19 pandemic, recently implied that the United States should ban Chinese international students from studying science in U.S. schools during an interview on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures."
Cotton expressed suspicions that the Chinese government is looking to steal coronavirus vaccine research from the U.S. and suggested limiting student visas for Chinese nationals as a solution.
In the interview, Cotton said that it is a "scandal" that the United States has "trained so many of the Chinese Communist Party's brightest minds." He also added that visas should be restricted specifically for Chinese international students looking to study STEM but not for those with a focus in the humanities, stating, "If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that's what they need to learn from America. They don't need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America."
These statements carry a dangerously xenophobic undertone, especially during a time where Asian Americans have experienced a rapid increase in anti-Asian racism.
Cotton's suggested "solution" to keep the CCP from stealing research from the U.S. is just an example of how focusing on blaming China for the pandemic can affect Asians in America. Suggesting that the U.S. should ban Chinese international students looking to study STEM only contributes to a generalization of Chinese people, as many people seem to be unable to separate the people from the government.
This negative view of Chinese nationals will affect the general view of all Asians, especially East Asians, in the United States. Considering how the view of Asians have shifted in the U.S. throughout U.S. history — especially looking at examples like World War II and Japanese internment — this constant focus on opposing China will likely be very dangerous for Asian Americans. It doesn't take long for these anti-China attitudes to become anti-Chinese, then anti-Asian once anyone who might pass as Chinese is also targeted. Cotton's suggestion would directly affect Chinese immigrants before eventually affecting the way all East Asian-American students would be viewed. Even just placing suspicion on Chinese international students, as he is doing now, is enough to spark some fear around Asian Americans, which will lead to more anti-Asian racism.
Asian Americans are already being targeted in racist attacks and hate crimes, and placing suspicion on a group of Chinese immigrants will only contribute to the recent increase in xenophobia and racism and exacerbate the situation.
Senator Cotton's statements about Chinese international students are extremely irresponsible and dangerous during such a sensitive time.