This emerges from the “Scientific Investigation of China”a major survey of 350,000 scientific publications by a group of European journalists, Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws.
This concerns scientific knowledge for weapons technology, unmanned vehicles (drones), robotics and semiconductors, such as chips. Knowledge that China itself does not possess but which is necessary for the country’s ambition to be the world’s largest military superpower by 2049.
Since the turn of the century, this concerns nearly three thousand studies (2,994) in which European universities collaborate with Chinese military scientists.
European cooperation with Chinese army universities
Military world power in 2049
Universities in Britain have the closest ties to Chinese military universities. Nearly half (1,389) of all studies are accounted for. Germany is in second place with 349 studies. Dutch universities are in third place with 288 publications.
When President Xi Jinping took office in late 2012, China was far behind the West in technology. Since then, China has been investing in the development of its universities and cooperation with foreign countries to acquire knowledge there.
The communist country wants to be economically and militarily independent from the West by 2049. And this requires “high-quality knowledge and technology for the development of the armed forces”.
In 2010, the General Intelligence and Security Service AIVD had already “actively warned” universities against scientific espionage from China.
But this warning had little effect, as since 2013 there has been a sharp increase in the number of joint publications between Chinese military universities and Dutch universities.
The number of studies shows an increase
Collaboration generates money
“Scientific research of this type is at the service of the Chinese defense apparatus,” explains Danny Pronk, defense expert at the Clingendael Institute. The knowledge gained here is used for “the modernization and development of the People’s Liberation Army of China.”
For a long time, universities have seen cooperation with China as an opportunity and it also brings a lot of money into the drawer. “We were pretty naive about it,” Pronk says. “Now the security aspects of this collaboration are becoming more tangible and insightful, but we haven’t faced this for a long time.”
“Stricter rules are needed”
The vast majority of studies (2,210) were conducted with military scientists at the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT). China’s main military university, which is under the direct authority of the Chinese military and President Xi Jinping.
“I fear that vital technologies and knowledge have already been leaked. On some fronts, it may already be too late,” Pronk says. “The modernization of the Chinese military has taken off enormously in the last ten years. The Netherlands must determine much more strictly in which fields it is and is not allowed to collaborate with Chinese scientists.”
In a response, Dutch universities said they value academic freedom, but also that in recent years they have indeed paid attention to the risk of high-tech knowledge leakage.
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