China closing its university doors to North Korean students

Posted on : 2017-09-21 17:33 KST Modified on : 2017-09-21 17:33 KST
The government has directed universities to restrict admissions in light of the recent nuclear test
Students at the Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang
Students at the Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang

Amidst soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and a succession of missile launches, the South China Morning Post reported on Sept. 20 that some Chinese universities are restricting admissions and scholarships for North Korean students. According to the newspaper, an admissions official from a university in Beijing stated that the university was reducing its number of North Korean students, especially in physics and material science. The officials said that they are following a government order, but did not specify the nature of the order.

Following a nuclear test by North Korea on Sept. 3, China has stepped up its level of surveillance on North Korean students studying within the country. “We cannot send enrolled students home, but security officers are closely monitoring them either directly or through technological methods to ensure that they cannot get their hands on sensitive substances,” said an official from a Beijing-based university.

In line with the new policy, Harbin University of Science and Technology in Heilongjiang Province suspended scholarships to North Korean students, but this move was met with protests through diplomatic channels. An official from the university stated, “Some students who had applied for Chinese government scholarships were very angry when they were turned down. We received a call from the embassy to ask if we were discriminating against students based on their nationality.” At the time, he replied that they were “turned down because of their grades,” but admitted to the newspaper that the real reason was a new government policy to not accept North Korean students following the country’s recent nuclear test.

When informed at a press conference on Sept. 7 that some Chinese universities were still accepting North Korean students in sensitive fields such as mechanical engineering, a spokesperson from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “I am not sure what’s going on there, but China is fully and strictly implementing sanctions on North Korea in line with UN Security Council resolutions.”

China has been inviting North Korean students into PhD programs at top military science universities like Harbin University of Science and Technology since 2013, providing them with full scholarships. The North Korean students have been praised for their academic performance, but there is also growing concern that North Korea might be able to obtain sensitive technology or research results through these channels. “

Accepting North Korean students is like making a large rock and dropping it on your foot,” said a Beijing-based researcher. “I think it is a mistake on the government’s part.” There are estimated to be several thousand North Korean students in China, but the official figure has not been publicly released.

By Kim Oi-hyun, Beijing correspondent

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