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  • Author: Alex Joske
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Australian Strategic Policy Institute
  • Abstract: What’s the problem? The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is building links between China’s civilian universities, military and security agencies. Those efforts, carried out under a policy of leveraging the civilian sector to maximise military power (known as ‘military–civil fusion’), have accelerated in the past decade. Research for the China Defence Universities Tracker has determined that greater numbers of Chinese universities are engaged in defence research, training defence scientists, collaborating with the military and cooperating with defence industry conglomerates and are involved in classified research.1 At least 15 civilian universities have been implicated in cyberattacks, illegal exports or espionage. China’s defence industry conglomerates are supervising agencies of nine universities and have sent thousands of their employees to train abroad. This raises questions for governments, universities and companies that collaborate with partners in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). There’s a growing risk that collaboration with PRC universities can be leveraged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or security agencies for surveillance, human rights abuses or military purposes. Universities and governments remain unable to effectively manage risks that come with growing collaboration with PRC entities. There’s little accessible information on the military and security links of PRC universities. This knowledge gap limits the effectiveness of risk-management efforts. What’s the solution? Efforts to manage the risks of engaging with PRC universities should involve close collaboration between governments and universities. Both share a concern for protecting national interests, ensuring the integrity of research, preventing engagement from being exploited by rival militaries or for human rights abuses, and increasing the transparency of research collaboration. The Australian Government should establish a national research integrity office and refine and enforce foreign interference and export controls legislation. It should use the China Defence Universities Tracker to improve the screening of visa applicants and inform decisions to award research funding. Universities should be proactive in their efforts to concretely improve how research collaboration is managed. The China Defence Universities Tracker is a tool to help universities and researchers understand institutions in China and avoid harmful collaborations. Universities can use the recently published Guidelines to counter foreign interference in the Australian university sector to help review their management of collaboration.2 They should introduce clauses into agreements with PRC entities to terminate those agreements in the case of specific ethical concerns or indications of research going towards a military end use. Universities could demonstrate their commitment to these initiatives by establishing independent research integrity offices that promote transparency and evaluate compliance with ethics, values and security interests, serving as administratively distinct bodies that avoid influence from internal university politics.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, National Security, Military Affairs, Higher Education
  • Political Geography: China, Asia