Feds condemn universities for collaborating with China, says more needs to be done to 'strengthen security'
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne expressed his displeasure with Canadian universities collaborating with Chinese military scientists, but says universities fall under provincial jurisdiction. Alberta's Ministry of Advanced Education told Rebel News they only permit 'low risk' collaboration to promote collaboration with restrictions.
According to a US-based data security company, some 50 Canadian universities have partnered with the Chinese military and scientific institutions to conduct academic research on high-end and sensitive technologies, such as those related to guided missiles and eavesdropping.
US strategic intelligence company Strider Technologies Inc. said many Canadian institutions have conducted and published hundreds of scientific papers with Chinese military scientists at the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) between 2005 to 2022.
Among the work with NUDT are 240 joint research papers published by 10 of Canada's top universities in collaboration with NUDT within the past five years.
Some of the experts at NUDT are missile performance and guidance systems, mobile robotics, and automated surveillance specialists.
NUDT said on its webpage that it was founded as the People's Liberation Army Military Academy of Engineering in the 1950s, and in 1978 changed to its current name "under direct care" of then-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Deng Xiaoping.
The webpage also described NUDT's "unique status" as being under the "direct leadership of the Central Military Commission," which is China's highest national defence organization, and that the institution is "heavily invested by the state and the military."
Current Chinese leader Xi Jinping, addressing an audience at NUDT in November 2013, pledged to "accelerate the building of [NUDT] into a world-class university with Chinese military characteristics," said the webpage.
The Globe and Mail reported that in terms of works published in collaboration with NUDT, the University of Alberta came in second, followed by the University of Calgary in tenth.
The Epoch Times contacted the University of Calgary, which stated that it established "a high standard of risk assessment," including creating a research security division to support researchers in following the institution's guidelines on international research collaborations.
"Our guidelines regarding international research collaborations encourage researchers to be discerning when creating a research partnership and ensure they are aligned with the government's guidance," said the university.
"We take security threats seriously, and we continue to work with the relevant government agencies to emphasize the need for tools and specific information to help us make our risk assessments."
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne expressed his displeasure with Canadian universities collaborating with Chinese military scientists and vowed to better protect cutting-edge science and technology from China.
"I am not happy, and it's unacceptable," Champagne told the House of Commons committee on science and research on February 2.
"I am looking to impose additional requirements for strengthening research security in Canada," he said. "We need to ensure sensitive research and IP is adequately protected … so there will be new guidelines issued shortly."
In 2021, Ottawa introduced the National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, which required researchers applying for NSERC grants to complete a security risk assessment.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is a federal funding agency that has also been involved in research projects in collaboration with Chinese military scientists alongside public universities.
According to a statement from the federal government, "the vast majority of research partnerships have transparent intentions that provide mutual benefits to all research partners."
The University of Alberta told The Epoch Times that they abide by "research practices in Canada and guidance from Canada's national security agencies" and have "several safeguarding checks, processes, and policies in place" for addressing security risks in working with international partners.
However, the feds acknowledged that some activities by foreign governments, militaries, and other actors — such as foreign interference and espionage — pose risks to Canada's national security and the integrity of its research ecosystem.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has long warned Canadian academic institutions of foreign espionage activities conducted through scholarly research, claiming Canada needs to remain vigilant against foreign actors like China.
According to a report by the Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l'Ecole Militaire (IRSEM), a French government-funded think tank, China holds broad and pervasive influence over Canada's academic sphere.
The 2021 report detailed how Chinese students shape attitudes toward the CCP on campus by exerting pressure on dissident voices or professors and how international students in Canada steal academic research for Beijing.
In 2018, CSIS director David Vigneault said that the agency finds China represents "the most significant and clear challenge for [human-enabled espionage] targeted against Canada's universities."
On February 2, Champagne said the extensive collaboration with the primary military university for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) requires further measures. However, he noted that since universities fall under provincial jurisdiction, he cannot ban all university research with NUDT and other Chinese military institutions.
"But you are going to see in the next guidelines that we will be issuing that we will be enjoining universities across Canada to adopt similar rules to protect sensitive research and IP," said Champagne. "Universities need to do more."
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Rebel News reached out to Alberta's Ministry of Advanced Education for comment, and they responded that in May 2021, the province directed its four research universities to suspend any new or renewed partnerships with China and to review and report on their partnerships with China.
At this time, Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said, "I am deeply concerned about the potential theft of Canadian intellectual property and further concerned that research partnerships with the People's Republic of China may be used by Chinese military and intelligence agencies."
Nicolaides admitted that more is needed to curb foreign state infiltration into Alberta's research and innovation centres, including its post-secondary institutions.
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"My priority is to work with our post-secondary institutions to protect Canadian intellectual property and to ensure that Alberta institutions do not enter into agreements with entities that would undermine our country's core national interests," he said.
In October of 2022, Alberta's government announced that Gordon Houlden would review Alberta post-secondary institutions' international agreements to advise on an approach to international relationships that balances innovation and competitiveness with risk mitigation.
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"Alberta's government takes the potential theft of sensitive research and intellectual property through international research agreements very seriously. That's why we asked research universities to pause, review and report on their respective partnerships with China in May 2021," said Advanced Education spokesperson Sam Blackett.
Blackett told Rebel News that they informed the universities that they could resume "low-risk agreements" with China — limited to arrangements regarding "undergraduate student mobility and transferability," as well as "corporate training opportunities."
He said they eased restrictions because "they were deemed a low risk to intellectual property and national security."
- By Ezra Levant
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