BEIJING — EVERY morning outside the gates of the US Embassy in Beijing, dozens of Chinese young people gather to share gossip and horror stories about their struggles to get to America. ``I wanted to go to the United States to do computer research,'' says Ms. Wu, an engineer. ``Here I have no equipment, no money,'' she exclaims, as the crowd listens sympathetically.
Ms. Wu was invited to Stanford University as a visiting scholar. She is one of many Chinese whose plans to travel to the US on scholarly exchanges have been blocked by Beijing.
``Because Sino-US relations have deteriorated, the ministry I work under refuses to give me approval to go,'' says Ms. Wu, who asked that her full name be withheld.
For scholars like Wu, obstacles to reaching the US likely will mount in coming months as the breakdown of Sino-American relations following the Beijing massacre takes its toll on academic ties.
The latest dispute between Beijing and Washington concerns a bill passed last week by the US Congress that would allow Chinese exchange students fearing political persecution to extend their stay in the US for four years.
Beijing has threatened to terminate exchanges of students and scholars if President Bush fails to veto the bill, which the Communist Party press has attacked as ``a wanton interference in China's internal affairs.''
Under the proposed law, about 25,000 to 30,000 Chinese scholars now in the US on J-1 visas would be able to waive for four years an immigration requirement that they return to China for two years before applying to change their US immigration status.
Chinese students in the US, seeking every possible way to stay, are lobbying against a possible presidential veto.
Chinese students facing deportation have already won a reprieve from the Bush administration, which has deferred any such ``enforced departure'' until June 1990, one year after the massacre. After that, students whose visas expire must leave, says a US Embassy official in Beijing. The only possible exceptions would be students able to get permission from the Chinese government to stay, or to prove that they would face ``exceptional hardship'' on returning home - a rigorous test, the official says.
Worried about the influence of Western democracy on its youths, as well as a worsening brain drain, China's government has redoubled its efforts to curtail the flow of scholars to the US.
Beijing has canceled the Fulbright Program for the exchange of university professors during the 1989-90 academic year. It has also hampered some Chinese from participating in other US sponsored academic exchange programs.
Since June, Chinese authorities have imposed a new requirement for obtaining passports: a letter signed by the leader of one's danwei (work unit), certifying that the applicant engaged in no ``illegal activities'' during the Beijing turmoil.
Already, new Chinese controls have contributed to a sharp decline in applications for US student exchange visas, or J-1 visas, over the six months from April to September.