Huawei Contribution to Jesus College Raises Concerns Over Transparency, Academic Freedom

July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020

Jesus College Cambridge received financial contributions of several hundred thousand pounds from Huawei and a Chinese state agency in the last two years, a freedom of information request revealed.

The contributions raise speculation about the university’s links to the controversial telecom company and Beijing, as well as issues of transparency.

In September 2019, Jesus College received 155,000 pounds ($195,000) from Huawei, and 200,000 pounds ($252,000) in September 2018 from an agency of the State Council of China, the country’s administrative body, a freedom of information (FOI) request made by The Times of London revealed on July 10.

In February, the UK-China Global Issues Dialogue Centre, which is based at Jesus College, published a white paper (pdf) on global governance of the digital economy produced with research funding from Huawei. The paper was reportedly favourable to the telecoms giant.

This prompted accusations that Huawei was “reputation laundering.”

While the Huawei funding was acknowledged in the paper, the amount was not disclosed.

Jesus College denied Huawei had influenced the publication, telling The Times of London, “It was made very clear [in February] that the report was funded by Huawei, and we would like to reiterate that the company was in no way able to shape or veto the publication’s views, research findings or conclusions.”

The Dialogue Centre was set up within weeks of receiving a 200,000 pound State Council agency donation, according to The Times of London.

The white paper was produced following a conference in October 2019 involving high-profile people in politics, business, and academia, where “the much more prominent role now taken by China, and Chinese companies, in global communications, and the need for new approaches that fully include them” was a key topic under discussion.

Student Concerns

A day before the publication of The Times of London report, Jesus College Student Union reportedly sent a letter to the college Master Sonita Alleyne about the Dialogue Centre and the China Centre—another China research centre within Jesus College that also has links to Chinese funding.

In its letter, the student union committee expressed concerns about perceived hypocrisy, academic freedom, and transparency, Cambridge University’s magazine Varsity reported.

“The China Centre has already been a source of considerable negative press attention for College. Regardless of whether the attacks are completely justified, they hit on the three values which centres established in the College should uphold: financial transparency, academic freedom, and political independence,” the letter stated, according to Varsity.

The letter criticised the Dialogue Centre’s white paper for its lack of mention of internet censorship.

“The closest it comes to mentioning China in this context is the unbelievable statement that ‘China monitors content and decides what is available to society, because for the Chinese government social stability presents a higher value than competition,’” the letter stated.

The potential for Chinese Communist Party influence on the centres was noted, making it even more imperative that the Dialogue Centre’s “finance sources are made transparent.”

“The College should be much more aware of China’s covert influence campaign in British universities and should already have taken steps to ensure that such a campaign is not possible at Jesus,” the letter stated.

University Links

Huawei has been proactive in its approaches to UK universities. A 2018 report from The Telegraph detailed Huawei’s links to over 20 UK universities, including funding of research projects and student trips to China.

Most recently, Imperial College London struck a 5-million-pound ($6.3 million) deal with Huawei in May to help fund the building of a new technology hub on its campus in west London. Meanwhile, Oxford University froze new contributions and sponsorship from the company last year amid concerns over espionage and potential national security risks.

In February, the London School of Economics was reportedly in talks with Huawei to receive 105,000 pounds ($132,600) to fund a three-year study on leadership in 5G development.

Concern remains in the UK around China’s alleged intent to groom members of the UK elite, spying fears related to Huawei’s desire to further embed its technology into the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, and increasing pressure from the United States to remove its presence from communications networks.

Huawei denies any mal-intent. CEO Ren Zhengfei said in a statement published on the Huawei website, “Huawei has been actively tackling the challenges of cybersecurity through partnerships with governments, customers, and partners in an open and transparent manner.”