In the long run, Sino-American relations may well rest on the influence of an elite group of Chinese--those who have studied in U.S. colleges and universities. Since 1989, students from mainland China--usually pursuing graduate degrees in science and engineering--have been the largest foreign contingent enrolled in American colleges.
Most Chinese graduates of American colleges have been reluctant to go home after experiencing U.S. freedom and economic opportunity. But lately, Chinese officials from the entrepreneurial provinces have started wooing them with well-paying jobs and promises of freedom to travel to and from China.
Chong-Pin Lin of the American Enterprise Institute says Taiwan followed a similar pattern. Once bent upon staying in the U.S., Taiwanese students began returning home in increasing numbers some years ago, helping to transform the economy and promote democracy. Today, President Lee Teng-hui and 12 members of his cabinet hold PhDs from U.S. universities.
If Chinese graduates of U.S. schools follow in the footsteps of their Taiwanese cousins, says Lin, "their effect on China's future political and economic development could be profound."