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ICC Note: In a highly unusual twist to the San Francisco plane crash last week that left two Chinese teenagers dead and hundreds injured, the Chinese Education Bureau has announced it will increase oversight of U.S.-Chinese student exchange programs. The announcement came after media scrutiny following the crash revealed that many of the students aboard the plane were to be involved in a summer program visiting college campuses and learning English hosted by a Los Angeles church. Parents of the children claimed they were unaware the program would expose the students to Christianity or that it was hosted by a church. In China it remains technically illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to participate in Christian activities. 
7/10/2013 China (WSJ) – Parents of Chinese students who planned to attend a U.S. summer camp before their jetliner crashed last week said Tuesday they were troubled to learn a Christian church was a primary host for a program they understood was for English immersion.
The death of two 16-year-old girls in the San Francisco plane crash Saturday has sparked scrutiny of the kind of education program they joined and that increasingly attracts young Chinese students to the U.S.
The city was to have been the first stop on a California bus tour for 34 classmates from China’s eastern Zhejiang province and their chaperones, a trip people who signed up said was pitched as an opportunity for the teens to practice English in an American setting. It was to include visits to California’s leading institutions of higher learning.
In fact, leaders of the nondenominational West Valley Church in Los Angeles said the Chinese students were to spend much of their time at its affiliated summer school.
The exchange-student program provides a “balanced and broad education” that in this case is run by a teacher provided by the Chinese agency that arranged the trip, and not by employees of the church or school—but kicks off with an introduction to Christian concepts as part of a welcome from the school, said its administrator, Derek Swales.
Students placed with local host families who are Christian might attend church with those families or pray with the families at home, he said.

Mr. Swales said “we’re not proselytizing” and that there were no organized prayers, religious services or Bibles in the classrooms for this Chinese group.
The Chinese students planned to spend much of their time visiting California sites like Disneyland and college campuses such as the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, Mr. Swales said. He said agents for the Chinese programs often visit the campus before planning a program there, and that it is clear the school is on a Christian campus. Mr. Swales said he couldn’t recall if the agent in this case visited the campus.

Christianity is permitted in China, where a 2011 Pew Research Center study estimated 5% of the population consider themselves believers. But the government doesn’t permit religious activities outside its scrutiny, including unsanctioned summer camps.
Following the air disaster, Chinese authorities signaled they would boost oversight of international summer-school programs that have quickly become popular among families of middle-class teenagers. The Education Bureau in Zhejiang, where the student group originated, said it intended to review future programs, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

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