In the vast expanse of the Pacific, Australia finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with a shifting geopolitical landscape that demands a recalibration of its approach.
Just how misplaced China-India comparisons are – and are likely to continue being for the foreseeable future ~ given the massive weight of the former in terms of its comprehensive national power, has been brought out by an interesting factoid. A recent report from Tsinghua University, China’s leading educational institution, reveals the trend for China’s top talent: Over the past few years, the number of Tsinghua graduates who chose to study in the United States of America has plummeted ~ from 11 per cent in 2018 to just 3 per cent in 2021. The most recent report issued in 2022, the year when Beijing ended the ‘zero-Covid’ policy, showed that only 7 per cent of the graduating class, including both undergraduates and graduates, chose to study abroad.
The perception that talented Chinese youth are itching to flock to American shores is not only erro- neous but the reality, it appears, is quite the opposite. Just this year, writes Sino-US relations expert Yingyi Ma in a recent essay, India eclipsed China in sending the most international students to the United States of America, the first time China has lost that ‘distinction’ since 2008. The choices of China’s top-drawer talent have changed. For those who can get into China’s top or even good colleges, as the Tsinghua University report underlines, the preference is to stay home for further studies as opposed to studying in the USA. This trend, if it continues, has the potential to substantively reverse the brain drain from China at a time when India continues to lose its best and brightest to the US varsity and employment ecosystem. All of this, it must be underlined, is playing out against the backdrop of intensifying Sino-US strategic rivalry. As Yingyi Ma points out, it complicates policymaking in Washing- ton which has assumed till now that China’s top talent cannot wait to leave the country. The geopolitical ten- sions between the USA and China have led to Chinese students’ passion for an American education subsiding dramatically; and that is not a bad thing at all for the party-state given China’s now open challenge to the US-led international system. The problem for Delhi, given India is already haemorrhaging talent to the USA, is that even more Indian students and professionals are likely to make a beeline for America, intensifying our brain drain.
Scholars agree that deteriorating state-to-state relations, the rise of fierce anti-China sentiment among Americans, and the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes across the USA have helped alleviate China’s brain drain. What the Chinese state could not do through talent recruitment programmes and coercive policies for years is now coming to pass. Over 1,400 Chinese scientists dropped their American university or cor- porate affiliations and returned to China in 2021, according to media reports, and four in 10 scientists of Chinese descent at elite American universities are con- sidering leaving. Guess who will fill the vacuum.