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Mitt Romney says Chinese students welcome — if they’re not here to steal American technology

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, pictured in this 2020 file photo, discussed China at U.S. Global Leadership Coalition town hall with former Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam, Tuesday, March 30, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney says he welcomes Chinese students who want to study in the United States but would be wary of those he thought were coming to steal American technology.

“I think it’s important that we take a very careful look about those who come in graduate programs, particularly graduate programs where they may be seeking to gain technology to take back to their country and to use against us,” the Republican senator said Tuesday during an online forum hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

“I would be very, very reluctant to bring in students from China that I thought were here to steal technology. That’s not going to be the case at Dixie State University or Southern Utah University or many other universities. But I’d be concerned about some of those top graduate programs.”

Romney’s comments came during the question-and-answer portion of the hourlong town hall with Utah political, business and community leaders about the emergence of China and its impact on the U.S. and Utah.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition is a network of 500 businesses and nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, national security and foreign policy experts and faith-based, academic, military and community leaders who support development, diplomacy and defense efforts to make the world safer, according to its website.

“Amid a worldwide pandemic and an ever-growing number of global crises, the stakes have truly never been higher for America’s global leadership,” said Lew Cramer, a Utah businessman who along with former Democratic Utah Rep. Jim Matheson serves as co-chairman of the coalition’s Utah advisory committee.

Romney also elaborated on his call for an economic, diplomatic and even a spectator boycott of the 2022 Summer Games in Beijing, saying there must be protections for athletes from the Chinese government.

While he doesn’t want to keep American athletes from competing in the Olympics, he said there must be an “ironclad” guarantee that they are not held or incarcerated in China for saying something critical about the country.

“That for me would be make or break as well,” Romney said.

Saying that it’s the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese people, creating challenges around the world, Cramer asked Romney how anti-Asian American rhetoric can be toned down.

Romney said it’s incumbent upon President Joe Biden and leaders of all kinds to let Asians know they are welcome as legal immigrants. A “more than fair share” of businesses the past decade that employ millions of Americans were started by Asians in the U.S., Romney said.

“I would welcome an influx of people from Asian nations to come to our country because I know they would create a stronger economy for us. It’s just a reality. America is going to shrink unless we have some legal immigration,” he said, adding Asians are devoted to family, work and education, especially science, technology, engineering and math.

Romney has repeatedly sounded the alarm about China as a threat to the United States and the world with growing economic and military power.

Former Republican Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam said there was discussion years ago that engagement with China would be an influence for good and that it would assimilate into world trade organizations and the world community.

“That was not irrational. It just turned out to be wrong. It didn’t turn out that way,” he said.

Romney compared China to the former Soviet Union, which also conquered sovereign nations, repressed its people and limited freedom of the press.

But unlike the Soviet Union, China has gotten rid of communism and adopted a form of capitalism — cowboy capitalism — and is using its economic might, he said.

“They represent an extraordinary threat in the same way as the Soviet Union did but coming at us in a very different way,” he said, noting China’s comprehensive economic, military, geopolitical and propaganda strategy to take over the world. “This is a very different competitor than we’ve ever faced before.”

Romney said the U.S. has no plan to counteract China’s aggression. America, he said, needs a grand strategy that encompasses the military, economy and geopolitical ambitions.

The U.S. also needs to launch an information campaign to tell the “horror” stories about China, including human rights abuses inside and outside the country, to “let the world understand what it is that’s coming, that this is a great Chinese octopus.”