Dozens of Canadian Universities Collaborated With Chinese Military Scientific Institute in Academic Research: Report

By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
January 30, 2023Updated: January 31, 2023

Some 50 Canadian universities have been working in partnership with a Chinese military scientific institution to conduct academic research on high-end and sensitive technologies, such as those related to guided missiles and eavesdropping, according to a U.S.-based data security company.

Researchers from Canadian universities—including the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and McGill University—have conducted and published hundreds of scientific papers with Chinese military scientists at the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) between 2005 to 2022, reported The Globe and Mail, based on a study by U.S. strategic intelligence company Strider Technologies Inc.

This work includes 240 joint research papers published by 10 of Canada’s top universities in collaboration with NUDT within the past five years. Research topics cover quantum cryptography, photonics, and space science, while some of the experts at NUDT are specialists in missile performance and guidance systems, mobile robotics, and automated surveillance, the Globe reported.

NUDT said on its webpage that it was initially 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.

Among the 50 Canadian educational institutions, the University of Waterloo tops the list in collaboration with NUDT, according to the Strider report.

Between 2017 and 2022, University of Waterloo researchers published 46 joint papers with researchers affiliated with NUDT. Some of that research, published in 2018 and 2020, involved photonics, a critical technology involving light waves that are used in intelligence-gathering systems.

In terms of works published in collaboration with NUDT, the University of Alberta came in second, followed by McGill University, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, McMaster University, Concordia University, and the University of Calgary, the Globe reported.

The Epoch Times reached out to the aforementioned ten universities in Canada for comment. Four institutions responded.

Responses from Universities

The University of Victoria told The Epoch Times that while “research security is an area of continuing attention” for universities worldwide, it also upholds “academic freedom,” and that researchers are expected to conduct themselves based on the current collective agreement between the faculty association and the university.

“[The University of Victoria] commits to maintaining academic freedom, freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression in all its research activities,” said Kirsten Lauvaas, spokesperson for the university, in an emailed statement.

“Faculty are expected to undertake, publish and disseminate research in accordance with the parameters set out in the current Collective Agreement between the Faculty Association and the university. This policy applies to all individuals conducting research under the auspices of the university, regardless of location.”

The University of Calgary said 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 a statement from 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 that can help us in making our risk assessments.”

Risk Assessment

Along with public Canadian universities, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), a federal funding agency, has been involved in research projects in collaboration with Chinese military scientists. In 2021, however, Ottawa introduced the National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, which required researchers applying for NSERC grants to complete a security risk assessment.

“While the vast majority of research partnerships have transparent intentions that provide mutual benefits to all research partners, 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 Government of Canada said in a news release.

The University of Waterloo told The Epoch Times that it has installed new security assessment practices based on the National Security Guidelines, which includes developing “a cross-campus team” to support safeguarding of research at the institution.

The University of Alberta also said they abide by “research practices in Canada and guidance from Canada’s national security agencies,” and has “a number of safeguarding checks, processes and policies in place” for addressing security risks in working with international partners.

However, the additional security guidelines haven’t deterred Canadian institutions from working with China, as none of the top 10 universities that have been collaborating with NUDT have barred their researchers from conducting future work with the Chinese institution, reported the Globe.

Some of those Canadian universities, in response to inquiries from the Globe, cited a common reason in justifying their continued research collaboration with China; that any order to terminate such academic cooperation must come from the federal government. Ottawa, however, hasn’t given that order.

“On matters of national security, universities look to Canadian authorities for actionable direction, and there is no direction from such authorities to preclude the co-authoring of the research papers you describe,” University of Toronto professor Joseph Wong told the Globe.

CSIS Warning

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has long warned Canadian academic institutions of foreign espionage activities conducted through academic research, saying China is among several foreign actors that Canada needs to be vigilant against.

China’s influence operation in Canada via the academic sphere is known to be wide and pervasive, including having international students in Canada steal academic research for Beijing, according to a report by the Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire (IRSEM), a French government-funded think tank.

The report, published in 2021, detailed how Chinese students can also help shape attitudes toward the CCP on campus by exerting pressure on dissident voices or professors. The report also cited CSIS director David Vigneault, who said in 2018 that the agency finds China represents “the most significant and clear challenge for (human-enabled espionage) targeted against Canada’s universities.”

Noé Chartier contributed to this report