Chinese grad students may be next hit by US-China tensions

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President Donald Trump speaks as he receives a briefing on the 2020 hurricane season in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration may soon expel thousands of Chinese graduate students enrolled at U.S. universities and impose other sanctions against Chinese officials in the latest signs of tensions between Washington and Beijing that are raging over trade, the coronavirus pandemic, human rights and the status of Hong Kong.

President Donald Trump said he would make an announcement about China on Friday, and administration officials said he is considering a months-old proposal to revoke the visas of students affiliated with educational institutions in China linked to the People’s Liberation Army or Chinese intelligence.

Trump is also weighing targeted travel and financial sanctions against Chinese officials for actions in Hong Kong, according to the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We’ll be announcing what we’re doing tomorrow with respect to China and we are not happy with China," Trump told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday, referring mainly to COVID-19. "We are not happy with what’s happened. All over the world people are suffering, 186 countries. All over the world they’re suffering. We’re not happy.”

Although the student expulsions aren't directly related to Hong Kong and China’s move to assert full control over the former British territory, potential sanctions against officials involved in that effort would be a result of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's determination that Hong Kong can no longer be considered autonomous from mainland China.

Pompeo notified Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong is no longer deserving of the preferential trade and commercial status it has enjoyed from the U.S. since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. Under a joint Sino-British agreement on the handover, Hong Kong was to be governed differently than the mainland for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” policy.

Pompeo's determination opened the door to possible sanctions and the loss of special perks Hong Kong has received from the United States. But neither Pompeo nor other officials were able Wednesday to describe what action the administration might take, an uncertainty related to the impact that such sanctions would have on U.S. companies that operate in Hong Kong and the city's position as Asia's major financial hub. Trump's comments sparked a drop in U.S. financial markets.

Serious consideration of the visa revocation proposal, first reported by The New York Times, has faced opposition from U.S. universities and scientific organizations who depend on tuition fees paid by Chinese students to offset other costs. In addition, those institutions fear possible reciprocal action from Beijing that could limit their students' and educators' access to China.