The Australian Research Council (ARC) has given over AU$262 million ($176 million) in taxpayer-funded grants over a five-year period to projects involving Chinese organizations, according to information published in the Education and Employment Committee, Education Portfolio 2019.
Among the grants handed out by ARC were those for research with potential military applications, including work on advanced materials and coatings, cryptography, quantum computing, next-generation radio technologies, and machine learning.
Four of the grants provided were given to Chinese multinational technology company Huawei and were awarded before former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s August 2018 decision to bar “high risk” vendors from participating in Australia’s 5G network.
ARC said in the education portfolio that it had made 230 grants for Australia-China research partnerships since 2014. The portfolio provides a “project summary” explaining the purpose of the project for each grant.
According to its website, ARC’s funding programs come under the umbrella of the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), which “delivers an average of AU$800 million [$538 million] per year to the most dynamic researchers in Australia.”
ARC says the purpose of handing out grants is to “grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community through funding the highest quality research, assessing the quality, engagement, and impact of research, and providing advice on research matters.”
But national security experts fear that taxpayers’ money could actually be going toward supporting China to develop technology that could be used against Australia in the future, with one expert calling for an investigation into the high volume of Chinese-linked projects.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings told The Australian that as Chinese institutions are obliged to turn over all relevant research to the Chinese military, the large amount of Chinese projects being funded was “a shocking failure of due diligence.”
“It really speaks to the appalling naivety of the Australian research community that they can do this, seemingly oblivious to the broader trends of what is happening in Chinese politics,” he told the outlet.
“Frankly, this needs to be investigated. There needs to be some sort of independent process to establish how much of our research capability has essentially been surrendered to Chinese interests in the name of scientific collaboration.”
A spokesperson for Liberal Tasmania Senator Eric Abetz told The Epoch Times that “the ARC’s provision of over AU$262 million to research collaboration with Chinese institutions over the last five years, in the context of ‘civil-military fusion,’ is deeply disturbing.”
“The Chinese government has broadcast it will use advanced technology to enhance its military capabilities, yet our institutions seem oblivious to this reality. The fact hundreds of millions of dollars of Australian taxpayers’ dollars are finding their way to Chinese institutions for purposes unknown needs to be investigated and stopped.”
“Australians demand full transparency and nothing less,” the spokesperson added.
However, during the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2019 Second Reading on Feb. 11, Labor Senator for Victoria Kim Carr said nothing was done “improperly” in handing out over AU$250 million over the last five years to Australian researchers and Chinese collaborators.
“It is totally inconsistent with government policy. According to this, this selective use of these so-called collaborations, we now have to become all too common. Just because it’s selective doesn’t make it right. We should make it clear: if you’re going to play to this level of scrutiny, then ASPI [Australian Strategic Policy Institute] is entitled to be scrutinized in exactly the same way.”
Carr added that “collaboration with China and a range of other countries is increasingly important,” and that “in some areas, it’s actually vital—in material science, energy, engineering, and computer science. Collaboration with Chinese researchers has also led to life-saving breakthroughs in medical science.”
Meanwhile, Washington has repeatedly expressed national security concerns over Huawei—founded in 1987 by a former engineer of the Chinese regime’s People’s Liberation Army—believing it to be a gateway for China to spy on the West and assist Chinese intelligence in stealing secrets. Huawei denies the allegations.