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U.S. Sen. John Kennedy speaks at the Lincoln Reagan Dinner in Covington.

A recent column by Lanny Keller lamented a drop in the number of international students studying in the U.S. under the Trump administration. I’d like to offer another perspective on this issue. 

Earlier this year, FBI director Christopher Wray warned against naivete when it comes to Chinese students on American college campuses. More specifically, Wray said: “(China is) exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it.”

No other country sends more students to the U.S. than China. Approximately 350,000 Chinese students further their education in the U.S. every year. We know that some of them spy and steal. They’re not stealing the answers to a history quiz or sneaking into Coach O’s office to look at his playbook. They’re stealing our technology, whether it’s agricultural advancements or automobile innovations.

They want our research, our ideas and the results of all those hours spent working in university laboratories. More simply put, they want our intellectual property.

Three of my colleagues and I raised this issue when we met with Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, a few weeks ago. We had a frank discussion in which we made it clear that China needs to stop cheating if it wants to be a true trade partner.

I’m not suggesting that every Chinese student is stealing from us. Those who play by the rules are welcome; Americans should be happy to have them. I also believe, however, that the number of Chinese students who don’t play by the rules, and who are encouraged to steal our intellectual property by the Communist Party of China, would surprise you.

China is pursuing a “Made in China 2025” policy to gain an edge against the rest of the world in a number of high-tech industries. Stealing U.S. intellectual property would greatly help China achieve this initiative.

The problem is that China isn’t just in a race to catch up with the U.S. and other global leaders. They want to surpass us, and they’re not adverse to cheating.

Earlier this year, a Chinese citizen who came to the United States on a student visa was arrested in Chicago for spying on defense contractors. October brought the arrest of a Chinese intelligence officer who worked for years to wrestle trade secrets away from aerospace experts in the U.S.

America is a country known for innovation and entrepreneurship. College campuses stimulate our creativity and ambition. University research gave us rocket fuel, GPS, oil refining, seat belts and pacemakers.

Despite the brainpower on college campuses, naivete remains a concern. If we’re not careful, we’ll export our “Made in America” brand to China.

John Kennedy

U.S. senator

Washington, D.C.