India on Thursday announced new restrictions on universities seeking to cooperate with Chinese institutions. The order came down only a week before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping.
Indian universities will now be required to obtain approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs before “signing up to Memorandum of Understandings, educational exchange programs, agreements and joint declarations of intent” with the Chinese.
The new directive further stated that any agreements already in force must be suspended until they have been reviewed and approved by the two ministries.
The reason for the new review procedure was not clearly stated, but observers widely assumed it had to do with the delicate China-India security relationship – a balancing act made no easier by India’s recent moves in the disputed Kashmir region bordering India, Pakistan, and China – and India’s unease over two major Chinese regional initiatives, the Belt and Road infrastructure plan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Some analysts further speculated India is worried about Chinese universities pushing into the Indian market or gaining economic leverage over Indian schools. Chinese educational institutions are aggressively seeking to recruit Indian students. As with the United States and many other countries, Indian counter-intelligence officials worry about Chinese scholars becoming security problems.
The New Indian Express (NIE) on Friday called the restrictions on university collaboration a “surprise move” that could disrupt a number of projects and student exchanges already in progress. One Indian university chancellor told the NIE that his government might have considered “the possibility of China adapting our research and taking it to the next level using their resources.”
Modi and Xi are expected to hold a meeting in the Indian city of Chennai on the Bay of Bengal late next week. The city is making extensive security preparations for their summit, which will include visits by the two leaders to several local landmarks.