Canadian universities have always had close scientific and technological research and development collaborations with China, but in the last two years, such collaborations have come under increasing scrutiny and scrutiny.
Last week, Canada’s nationally distributed Globe and Mail reported exclusively that the University of Western Alberta continues to collaborate with China on a wide range of scientific research projects in “strategically important areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
In some of these projects, Canadian professors and researchers have partnered with the Chinese to set up companies to commercialize the technologies developed in Canada.
Immediately after the news broke, Alberta’s Minister of Higher Education Demetrios Nicolaides issued a statement saying that he wanted to exchange views with the University of Alberta administration on the matter.
In a statement sent to the Voice of America, Nicolaides said he was “concerned about the potential theft of Canadian intellectual property. At the same time, he is even more concerned that the results of the collaboration with China may be used by the Chinese military and intelligence agencies. He also said he would welcome “a comprehensive federal framework policy on these serious and pressing issues.
Currently, a university working group, the Research Champions, which includes representatives from Canada’s public safety, innovation and technology, health and security intelligence sectors, is working intensively to gather input and is expected to issue federal guidance on the risks of university cooperation with foreign governments by the end of June.
Also last week, at a hearing of the federal Parliamentary Committee on Canada-China Relations (CACN), Professor Gorden Houlden, dean emeritus of the University of Alberta’s China Institute, expressed his concern that these government practices would undermine Canada’s long tradition of academic freedom.
In an interview with the Voice of America, Professor Houlden said, “I don’t think the government should regulate universities specifically, and the independence or autonomy of universities is very important. Once the government starts to regulate every detail of the university, this control will grow and academic freedom is threatened.
Academia lacks vigilance against foreign theft of intellectual property
Michel Juneau-Katsuya served as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) for the Asia-Pacific region. He told the Voice of America that Canada’s academic and political communities lack the vigilance they should have in the face of years of intellectual property theft by China.
He said, “Canadian academics are often extremely hesitant to accept warnings from the intelligence security services, whether it’s from the CSIS, or from the RCMP, or from government departments.”
He described how, over his years of career, he has repeatedly witnessed researchers in trouble, such as losing their intellectual property and getting into complicated disputes, when they realize the danger too late.
He analyzed that Chinese espionage operations against Canadian universities include stealing information about ongoing university research projects, infiltrating all Chinese student organizations and controlling them as much as possible, and recruiting “influential people” in the academic field.
However, some experts believe that the Canadian government, which in the past has strongly supported university researchers to cooperate with foreign countries and receive financial support, is now asking to put the brakes on cooperation with China. And so far, the federal government has not given any guidance for cooperation with China.
Mr. Juno Casua also admitted that the Canadian government is responsible for the way things have gone. The government should have given guidance on the project in question a long time ago, and should have been tougher in dealing with similar incidents.
According to Professor Hou Bingdong, one of the problems is that education in Canada falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments, and much of the work of the security intelligence services is at the federal level, and neither the universities nor the provincial governments can make assessments regarding national security, which requires joint coordination between the federal, provincial governments, and universities.
Extra Caution Needed in Collaborating with Sensitive Chinese Technologies
Last month, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security (NSICOP) released separate annual reports naming China and Russia as threats to Canadian national security, and in 2020, Canada faces the worst international espionage since the end of the Cold War.
Canada’s security intelligence agencies have also repeatedly warned that China is stealing sensitive Canadian technological information as well as results, and that the results of collaborative research could be used by China for military equipment as well as surveillance and monitoring of the population.
Margaret McGuaig-Johnston, a member of the advisory board of the Canada-China Forum and a senior researcher at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Technology and Policy, has many years of experience dealing with China. For several years, she has warned the federal government about this.
She has written a detailed risk assessment report on “joint ventures” in China for Canadian technology projects. In this report, she cited the difficulties encountered in such joint ventures, such as the low ownership of the Canadian side, which can be as low as 10 percent in some cases, and the fact that the Canadian side is often pressured by its Chinese partners to give up more ownership of the company, to transfer technology, and to sell key technologies, all with the goal of gaining control of these technological achievements.
She also emphasized that China is a national system and that any action, from the research results of a scientific institution to the actions of an individual on a Canadian campus, is subordinate to “national needs. In this regard, Chinese institutions and individuals have little choice.
For example, she said, the Chinese government’s policy of integrating military and civilian science and technology stipulates that all civilian scientific and technological achievements are subject to the needs of military research. This also means that even if Canada collaborates with Chinese universities, the results could be converted to military use or used in surveillance devices on the population in a heartbeat, and we must be doubly careful.
The Chinese Embassy in Canada wrote to the Canadian National Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last year specifically about Canadian universities’ cooperation with China in science and technology, saying that “Canada has nothing to worry about when it comes to cooperation with China in science and technology.
The email said that “countries should create favorable conditions and a comfortable atmosphere for normal exchanges and cooperation in education and science and technology” and that “we strongly oppose the politicization of normal exchanges and cooperation in academic and scientific research, as well as the demonization of the Chinese military.
The door to cooperative research with China should not be closed
Professor Hou Bingdong believes that China will lead the way in future scientific and technological development, and that Canada should maintain its cooperation with China as a whole, rather than closing the door completely to it.
We are not in a cold war with China, at least not yet, he said.
I strongly support continued academic cooperation with China, he said, and it will make a difference. It’s good for China and it’s good for Canada, but I hope to avoid the trouble that has arisen.
He acknowledged that the Canadian government needs to protect its intellectual property and that it can give guidance on risk platforms if sensitive topics are involved in scientific and technological research with China, but that it should continue to work with China in areas where there is no need to worry about security, such as medicine and environmental projects.
According to the report, the University of Alberta has been cooperating with China in science and technology research since 2005. Currently, they have access to at least 50 Chinese national laboratories, and 60 professors have received funding for 90 projects from Chinese national laboratories and other institutions.
And Professor Paul Evans, a China expert at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, revealed at a hearing of the Canada-China Relations Committee that more than 300 professors at UBC have a strong interest in China and that institutions have established partnerships with more than 100 Chinese institutions.
Before the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, there were about more than 140,000 Chinese students in Canada.
“What should be a concern is China exerting influence over Canadian universities.”
Mr. Juno Casua, former Asia-Pacific director of Canada’s National Security Intelligence Agency, told Voice of America that he does not believe the government’s introduction of a risk guidance platform will affect the autonomy and academic freedom of Canadian universities.
He claimed that it will be a guidance document, which only issues warnings and makes recommendations. The government should not dictate what universities do, but it should provide them with tools, such as how to conduct assessments of potential security risks, and ultimately, it is the universities that make the decisions.
Instead, he warned that close cooperation with China could allow China to exert economic and political influence over Canadian universities.
Ms. McCaig-Johnston said she understands that Canadian universities value their academic independence and freedom. However, it would be inappropriate to find a balance between receiving monetary support and national security, which is paramount in all cases.
Both of them described how, over the years, China has invested in Canadian universities through various channels, such as some companies and even tycoons, inviting Canadian university researchers to lecture in China and developing joint projects, but this can place limits on the independence of Canadian universities.
One famous example is the awarding of an honorary doctorate to the Dalai Lama by the University of Calgary in 2009. This practice greatly upset the Chinese government. And for several years afterwards, the Chinese education authorities did not recognize the degrees awarded by the University of Calgary.
Ms. McCaig-Johnston believes it is clear that such retaliation will have a chilling effect on other universities that receive Chinese funding, and will likely influence universities on whether they support democracy initiatives on campus in Hong Kong and whether they take a stand on “genocide” against the Uighurs.
She also said Canadian universities should be more transparent about how much Chinese funding they receive.
Federal Government Risk Guidance Coming Soon
In March, Canada’s federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development issued a statement saying that “Canada has world-class research institutions and its climate of open and collaborative research is increasingly subject to interference from spies and foreign governments.
The statement calls on Canadian academic institutions, research units, and private companies to take extra care in protecting their intellectual property and academic development.
The federal government said the risk guidelines being developed will include “specific risk guidelines that incorporate national security into the assessment and consideration of research partners. At the same time, it will help researchers better assess the potential risks of their projects.
Mr. Junuh-Kasuya said the guidance is a good first step and a good start.
The most effective protection in intelligence agency operations is people’s awareness,” he said. Here it means that universities are aware of the potential risks of working with China, not installing a few more cameras, surveillance systems, or alarm systems.
And Professor Bingdong Hou also suggests that Canada should conduct a study of the science and technology cooperation policies of other Western allies with China. At the same time, government guidelines should focus on providing researchers with easy and clear access to advice and risk assessment.