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Inadvertently Arming China? One Year On: The Chinese military complex and its exploitation of scientific research at UK universities

Robert Clark, October 2022

Military expert, Robert Clark picks up one year on from ‘Inadvertently Arming China: The Chinese military complex and its potential exploitation of scientific research’ published in 2021.

Inadvertently Arming China (2021) documented and analysed the extent to which some of the UK’s leading universities, research institutions, academics, scientists and researchers, collaborated with Peoples Republic of China (PRC) entities directly linked to either the Chinese military or to Chinese military-funded and supported universities, for sensitive dual-use technology research.

This latest update uncovers at least 60 Chinese nationals working at UK universities and research institutions, in the last 18 months, who are either employed directly by UK universities as researchers, academics, engineers, and scientists, or are directly cited as either visiting or associated fellows, in a professional capacity. These individuals have all come either directly from one of China’s defence conglomerates, such as the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), or from one of the High Risk or Very High Risk People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-linked universities, are still listed at such institutions, or have only recently left.

This follow-up study draws attention to the continued pervasive presence of Chinese military-linked conglomerates and PLA-linked universities in the sponsorship of high-technology research centres in several leading UK universities, and their continued research relationships at both an institutional and intra-personal level.

In many cases, these UK universities continue to unintentionally generate research that is sponsored by and may be of use to China’s military conglomerates, including those with activities in the production of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as well as hypersonic missiles, in which China is involved in a new arms race and seeks ‘massively destabilising’ weaponry. The geopolitical ramifications of which have serious consequences for British national security.

This publication points to the need for an urgent strategic reassessment by the new British government in Westminster, for new rules for scientific research with PRC universities and companies, some of which should be applied directly to the UK’s research councils and universities, while some may require legislation. Other rules are needed for scientific research in wider potentially sensitive scientific fields generally and in universities in particular.

Note: None of the academics, researchers, or other staff whose research at UK universities or centres is discussed in this report are accused of knowingly assisting the development of the Chinese military, of knowingly transferring information to that end, or of committing any breach of their university regulations. Nor are they accused of any other wrongdoing, or breach of national security, or any criminal offence.

In some cases, research may be used solely for non-military ends; the purpose of the examples mentioned in this report is not necessarily to demonstrate that they risk being used for military purposes, but in some cases that the research may simply help improve the business or academic position of a PRC military-linked conglomerate or institution; where research may be put to use by the military of the PRC or organisations which are linked to it, we assume that researchers in the UK will have carried out this research without intending this to happen.

None of the UK universities, institutes or funding bodies mentioned in this report are accused of knowingly contributing to the development of China’s military or its military industries, as we believe that these universities have developed the sponsorship and research relationships we describe in good faith and in the belief that their scientific outputs will have purely civil ends.   

The purpose of this report is simply to draw attention to the risk that UK research may be exploited by the Chinese military in a way the researchers could never have envisaged. It is our belief that shedding light on this risk is unquestionably a matter of pressing and vital public interest. We have initially published this in online form only to provide more opportunity for possible corrections.

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