Universities 'accepted £240million from Chinese institutions'

British universities could ‘help China build superweapons’: Oxford and Cambridge among universities that have ‘accepted £240million from military-linked Chinese institutions for research to develop drones, fighter jets and missiles’

  • Investigation by The Times found more than 1,000 academic collaborations between British and Chinese academics. This has tippled in six just years
  • This is despite increasing warnings about university links to Chinese interests
  • Of the £240 million, £60 million came from sources sanctioned by the US
  • The study found collaborations have touched technology including that used in rail guns, drones, fighter jets, missiles and other military tech 

British universities including Oxford and Cambridge have been handed £240 million from Chinese organisations since 2015, an investigation has found. 

A number of the Chinese institutions that have donated have links to China’s military, sparking fears that joint research with Britain’s universities could be helping to build super-weapons for Beijing.

The investigation by The Times found that there have been more than 1,000 research collaborations between the UK and Chinese institutes, a number that has more than tripped in six years.

British universities including Oxford and Cambridge have been handed £240 million from Chinese organisations since 2015, an investigation has found. Pictured: Imperial college London, which saw almost £55 million of finding from Chinese sources

Of the total £240 million, £60 million has come from sources that have been sanctioned by the U.S. government for supplying China’s forces with military hardware, including fighter jets.

The study found that the collaborations have touched technology including that used in rail guns, drones, fighter jets, missiles and other military tech.

Additionally, some academics working at Britain’s top universities have worked with their Chinese counterparts on sensitive ‘dual use’ research, The Times reported. 

‘Dual use’ projects involved research into technology that can be used for civilian use, but that can also be used for military purposes.

£40 million of the £240 million came from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei – whose contract to roll out 5G in the UK was suspended over security concerns – and £20 million from other firms also sanctioned by the United States. 

The Times listed the top five British universities to have benefited from the funding, which, in order, were: Imperial College London (£54.5 million), the University of Cambridge (£46.1 million), the University of Oxford (£24 million), the University of Manchester (£19.7 million) and the University of Edinburgh (£13.9 million). 

The investigation by The Times found that there have been more than 1,000 research collaborations between the UK and Chinese institutes, a number that has more than tripped in six years. Pictured: The University of Cambridge, which received £46.1 million since 2015

Of the almost £55 million Imperial College London received, £5 million came from three companies linked to the Chinese military, and went towards the research of high-tech aerospace materials. 

The US has sanctioned all three of the firms, while two are subsidiaries of a defence contractor that manufactures fighter jets for China’s air force.

Other collaborations at Universities reported by The Times included work on technology such as rail guns, which are high-powered weapons that use magnetic fields to fire projectiles at velocity, and with high precision. 

Security officials in Britain have increasingly been warning about Chinese links in recent years, with MI5 chief Ken McCallum saying the country poses a greater threat to British interests than Russia.

And last year, Specialists at the Foreign Office, Special Branch and HMRC were said to be investigating academics suspected of passing sensitive information to China, including pioneering British technology.

That came after it was revealed by the Mail on Sunday that more than a dozen British universities were under investigation over relationships with the Chinese government.    

Chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat wrote in the Mail on Sunday in February 2021 that ‘some in Britain’s universities have lost their moral bearings and are not promoting academic freedom, but undermining our strategic interests.’

University of Oxford received the third most amount of Chinese funding of British universities. The funding has raised fears that British institutions have contributed to military research on joint projects with Chinese colleagues

The Tory MP argued that Britain is making a mistake to open up universities too much. ‘We are handing over the secrets that will help an often-hostile country become the greatest military power of the 21st Century.’

‘In opening the doors of our universities to China, we are bargaining away our competitive advantage – and, for a price, handing over the secrets that will help an often-hostile country become the greatest military power of the 21st Century,’ he wrote.

‘University leaders must recognise that the great hope of the past two decades – that China was steadily opening up politically as its economy became more competitive – has been dashed. A Maoist personality cult has been established around President Xi, with his personal ‘thought’ inserted into China’s constitution, to be studied by all.’

Amid the concern, universities and academics were warned and told to carefully vet their collaborators, check if their research had national security implications, and to determine whether there were any ethical concerns with their funding.

Despite these warnings, The Times’ research shows that British academics are working with Chinese colleagues with military links more rather than less.

Under the government of David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne, Britain and China saw a boom in trade and collaboration.

The study found that the collaborations have touched technology including that used in rail guns, drones, fighter jets, missiles and other military tech. Pictured: Manchester University, that received almost £20 million in funding since 2015

However, diplomatic ties have grown tense over China’s human rights abuses – such as its genocide of the Uighur Muslims – and Chinese interference.

According to an inquiry in 2019 issued by the foreign affairs committee, ‘UK institutions are reluctant to respond to allegations of influence due to their reliance on income from student recruitment and research grants’. 

MailOnline contacted Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh.

A spokesperson for the Russel Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s leading universities, said research institutions take issues relating to national security ‘extremely seriously’. 

Russel Group Universities ‘undertake robust due diligence checks in line with Government guidance and export controls before forming new international research partnerships,’ the spokesperson said.

‘The sector follows the lead of the Government on international collaboration, and takes a pragmatic, risk-based approach that allows the UK to participate as a global leader in research, while ensuring sensitive research is protected.’ 

An Imperial spokesperson said: ‘These projects are fundamental scientific research, carried out with partners and collaborators around the world and research findings are shared openly. 

‘All partnerships and collaborations at Imperial undergo thorough scrutiny and are regularly reviewed, working closely and regularly with the appropriate Government departments, with our commitments to UK national security given the utmost importance.’ 

Security officials in Britain have increasingly been warning about Chinese links in recent years, with MI5 chief Ken McCallum saying the country poses a greater threat to British interests than Russia. Pictured: The University of Edinburgh

Responding to MailOnline, a University of Manchester spokesperson said:

‘As a University, we collaborate with and receive funding from many different institutions and large organisations from across the globe who specialise in this kind of research. This is due to our world-renowned expertise in specialities such as smart materials and advanced engineering.

‘The University undertakes checks in line with Government guidance for international collaboration which ensures sensitive research is protected. Careful consideration is given to research collaborations in the light of legislation in recent years to strengthen security measures.’

The University of Cambridge referred MailOnline to pages on its website dealing with international collaboration, and specifically regarding funding from China, on which the University breaks down its Chinese funding sources.

The University of Oxford referred MailOnline to the statement from the Russel Group.

As of Saturday afternoon, the University of Edinburgh had not responded.        

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