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International students in China have become the latest target in Beijing’s campaign to ensure thought control and political stability. The party-state’s obsession with “ideological security” clashes with its efforts to promote people-to-people exchanges as a key part of China’s global outreach.

International students in China are coming under the party-state’s oversight for the first time. According to new regulations issued by the ministries of education, foreign affairs and public security, Chinese universities will be required to assign “tutors” to foreign students to provide help with their “studies and life.” The regulations also introduce compulsory classes for international students on Chinese laws and institutions as well as culture and customs.

The “Measures on schools recruiting and educating international students” (学校招收和培养国际学生管理办法) will come into effect on July 1. Similar regulations have been in place for students from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao since 1999.

Providing guidance (and education) for exchange students can be a helpful service. But these new regulations have to be seen in the context of the CCP’s recent reinforcement of ideological control throughout the education system. The tasks of the “tutors” (辅导员) are highly likely to include reporting on potentially “harmful” ideas and activities. This would discourage an open exchange of ideas between international students, especially those from liberal democracies, and their Chinese classmates.

Ideological control is at odds with global exchanges

The tighter control over international exchange students is strangely at odds with China’s leaders recent attempts to present their country as a champion of globalization. Beijing has made increasing efforts to promote people-to-people exchanges, from youth exchanges to school partnerships. The concept of “people-to-people connections” is even part of Beijing’s ambitious “Belt and Road” initiative to build an infrastructure and information corridor across Eurasia.

But while Beijing allows more exchange with the rest of the world, it also steps up its efforts to control the information flow.

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