New Delhi: Sixteen university labs around the world – including 10 in the UK alone – have extensive links and major investments from Chinese defence companies, including scientists from China’s hypersonic missile programme, according to an analysis undertaken by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
According to a report in The Guardian, the analysis reveals unprecedented levels of collaboration between university labs in the UK and Chinese military companies, which it says could threaten the country’s national security.
The report’s author and an analyst at ASPI, Alex Joske, told the newspaper, “[Something] that really alarmed me was the level of collaboration with Chinese missile scientists. I haven’t seen anything like Chinese missile manufacturers setting up these joint labs in other countries”.
Earlier in November, a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee report revealed that there was an increasing risk of China and other “autocracies” influencing academic freedom in the UK and found “alarming evidence” of Chinese interference in UK universities.
The University of Manchester and Imperial College London host six of the 10 university labs run jointly by Chinese defence companies in the UK identified in the report. Of them, the Sino-British Joint Advanced Laboratory on Control System Technology at the University of Manchester and Imperial College London’s Advanced Structure Manufacturing Technology Laboratory are in partnership with the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which develops space launch vehicles and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In addition to collaborations with Chinese defence firms, several universities are also partnered with Chinese military institutes, like the PLA’s Army Engineering University and the National University of Defence Technology, to work on
hi-tech materials, 5G networks and artificial intelligence programmes.
Joske said that while the research was often framed as “dual-use”, the concept was questionable with regard to collaborations with defence companies. “Some of the collaborations that universities are engaged in with China are almost certainly harmful for national security and contributing to things that I don’t think the taxpayer would approve of,” he said.
A week ago, a US Senate panel detailed China’s efforts to infiltrate US research institutions and found that the slow response by American science agencies to the threat had allowed China to use US government funds and private-sector technology to achieve its own military and economic goals.
Contracts from China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a programme designed to recruit leading academics and promote domestic research, required scientists to abide by Chinese law, keep the contract secret and sign over any intellectual property rights to the sponsoring Chinese institution.
Within the US as well, since World War II, universities have received significant sums of money from the Department of Defense (DoD) to fund scientific and technological research. In 2018 alone, the DoD issued 24 awards totalling $169 million (Rs 1,206.3 crore) to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary basic research.
However DoD-sponsored research is expected to yield results for operational requirements and military research objectives and not to build a strong technology base for the nation. This model of funding from the defence department allows the military to influence the research of science and technology but also prefers research that fulfils specific military needs.