European governments have been urged to consider barring Chinese nationals from research projects and study programmes involving technology with potential military or national security applications.
Researchers from the Leiden Asia Centre, which is affiliated to Leiden University in the Netherlands, made the recommendation in response to concerns that China was seeking to acquire intellectual property developed in Western universities for military ends.
Concerns that research institutions might be unwittingly helping China to develop its military strength have been greatest in Australia and the US but Frank Pieke, director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin and a former professor of modern China studies at Leiden, told Times Higher Education that there had been cases of technology being passed to China from universities in countries including Sweden, the UK and France.
A report that Professor Pieke co-authored with colleagues from the Asia centre says that “considering targeted measures such as the exclusion of certain foreign nationals from specific study programmes or research projects on national security grounds (including the protection of critical infrastructure) should no longer be taboo”.
The Leiden report, based on interviews with academics and policymakers involved in Chinese exchange, warns that Western universities are sometimes naïve about their collaborations.
“I don’t want to say there’s a genuine systematic attempt to strip us of our military technology but the door has been open too much to make it too tempting and easy for Chinese researchers to tap into our R&D resources,” Professor Pieke said.
The report comes after an Australian study warned that many Western universities did not understand the blurring of civilian and military research in China, and Chinese institutions’ affiliations with the People’s Liberation Army.
Professor Pieke called on European governments to draw up guidelines for universities on what they could collaborate on with China, and how they should manage the risks involved.