Imperial College closes research joint ventures with Chinese defense firms | China

Imperial College will close two major research centers sponsored by Chinese aerospace and defense companies as part of a crackdown on academic collaborations with China, the Guardian has learned.

The Avic Center for Structural Design and Fabrication is a long-standing partnership with China’s leading civil and military aviation supplier, which has provided over £6 million for research into advanced aerospace materials. The second center is run jointly with Biam, a subsidiary of another state-owned aerospace and defense company, which has contributed £4.5 million for projects on high performance batteries, jet engine components and impact-resistant aircraft windshields. The centers’ stated goals are to advance civilian aerospace technologies, but critics have repeatedly warned that the research could also advance China’s military ambitions.

Now Imperial has confirmed that both centers will be closed by the end of the year after two applications for licenses to the government’s Joint Export Control Unit (ECJU), which oversees research sharing, were rejected. sensitive with international partners. The closures follow a warning in July from the heads of MI5 and the FBI about the espionage threat posed by China to British universities, and highlight the government’s hardline stance on the issue.

“You can say with a high degree of confidence that this decision was made because the government is of the view that maintaining the licenses would allow military development in China, which is considered a security threat,” Sam said. Armstrong, director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society think tank. “The government has made it clear to universities that there is an overall change in the weather, so these collaborations are no longer possible.”

When the centers were launched in 2012, the Conservative government was keen on such partnerships, and some universities – including Imperial College and Manchester – accepted substantial funding from state-owned companies that supply the Chinese military fighter jets, surveillance software and missiles. In 2015, then-Chancellor George Osborne accompanied Chinese President Xi Jinping on a tour of the Graphene Institute in Manchester during a state visit.

But as relations between China and the West have soured, with concerns over human rights in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, behind the scenes there has been a crackdown on academic partnerships involving “dual-use” technologies that have benign civilian uses, but also potential military applications.

As well as the two centers which were due to close at Imperial, five other collaborations have been quietly halted over the past three years – all but one in the UK were labeled ‘high risk’ in a 2019 analysis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). This includes facilities in Imperial and Manchester sponsored by Chinese missile maker Calt, whose parent company reportedly supplied drones deployed in the Xinjiang region. The government’s Export Control Unit has rejected three license applications from Imperial and five from Manchester linked to collaborations with China since 2018.

“The fact that these two [latest Imperial] facilities were closed is not very surprising,” said Armstrong. “It’s hard to see how you can partner with Avic without serving the purposes of the Chinese military.”

Charles Parton, a China expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said the UK had been “sleepwalking” into partnerships that posed a threat to national interests. “Finally we woke up and are now starting to get a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “The distinction is narrowing between what is civilian and military use. We really shouldn’t help a hostile power.

“The government is trying to define the limits of the types of collaborations that are acceptable,” he added. “We should collaborate, but not on anything that might have military use or raise human rights concerns.”

A spokesperson for Imperial College London said: ‘Imperial’s research is open and regularly published in leading international journals and we do not conduct any classified research. All partnerships and collaborations are carefully scrutinized and regularly reviewed, working closely and regularly with the appropriate government departments, and in line with our commitments to UK national security.

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