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Is the US overreacting to the China threat? Yes, but Beijing's iron grip isn't helping, says leading Harvard professor

The US is at risk of "overreacting" to the threat from China, a leading Harvard academic has warned, but added that Beijing's increasingly hard ideological line may be encouraging the more hawkish elements in America.

William Kirby, professor of China Studies at Harvard University, warned that Donald Trump's administration was not consulting "the smartest people" about China, which may increase the risk of policy missteps.

Kirby was speaking at a seminar in Beijing on Friday, where he also said that education would be the key to whether China could replace the US as the world's leading power.

"When you think of the broader question here: 'Can China lead and will China be the leading power of the 21 century?' A central point will be education," said Kirby, who is also chairman of the Harvard China Fund, the university's academic venture fund for China.

Kirby said statues of Mao, which were erected in many universities across China during the Cultural Revolution and are still present in some institutions, symbolised how Beijing was refusing to loosen its ideological grip over education.

Chinese students in America have also faced increasing scrutiny as part of the broader effort to contain and confront Beijing amid increasing tensions between the world's two largest economies, including the trade war and a number of diplomatic and strategic disagreements.

In June, the US State Department shortened the length of visas issued for Chinese graduate students in fields like robotics or advanced manufacturing due to fears of espionage and intellectual property theft.

The Trump administration is also reportedly weighing whether to subject Chinese students to additional vetting before they are able to study in the US.

No students from mainland Chinese schools were admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through its early admission programme this year, fuelling concerns that top research universities are joining the efforts.

But Kirby also said the increasing ideological rigidity in China under President Xi Jinping may have stoked up the hawkish voices in the US that are driving the Trump administration's increasingly tough policies.

"This is the thing that I worry about a lot in the United States. There were a lot of people who know a lot about China who could be advising President Trump ... None of the smartest people are being asked to do so."

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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