Chinese University Uses Study-Abroad Program in US to Further Develop Beijing’s BeiDou Navigation System

December 2, 2020 Updated: December 8, 2020

A Chinese university dispatched researchers to study at Northern Illinois University to gain knowledge that can help develop China’s satellite navigation system, according to leaked documents recently obtained by The Epoch Times.

This year, the Chinese regime completed its rollout of the BeiDou Satellite Navigation System (BDS) in a challenge to the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS). While the BeiDou system has both civilian and military applications, Beijing developed it primarily for military purposes.

The Epoch Times obtained a document from the Lanzhou Jiaotong University (LJU), in which the school applied to the China Scholarship Council—established by China’s education ministry to fund students to study abroad—seeking scholarships for three senior researchers, one visiting scholar, and one post-doctoral fellow to start a one-year program studying geographic information science at Northern Illinois University (NIU) this year.

In an application dated June 16, the university explains that it has already signed an agreement with NIU to “jointly train talent” in this field. The program would start in August.

According to an announcement on the LJU website, the agreement was signed on April 26.

Epoch Times Photo
Lanzhou Jiaotong University reports to the China Scholarship Council its plan to send scholars to Northern Illinois University to gain knowledge that can benefit BeiDou Satellite Navigation System-related projects, dated June 16, 2020. (Provided to The Epoch Times by insider.)

In a section of the application about “the project’s importance,” LJU writes that geographic information science “has become part of the country’s national strategy” and that the program would assist in “fully deploying China’s BeiDou system.”

The program would help train LJU scholars to have an “international perspective,” the school wrote.

LJU also wrote that it signed another agreement with NIU to send 10 of its undergraduate students there each year for a two-year program in geographic information science, with tuition to be paid by the students. The school stated that the study-abroad program would serve the interests of Beijing’s 13th Five-Year Plan, which calls for advancing geological surveying and mapping related to the BeiDou system.

Officials at NIU didn’t immediately respond to questions by The Epoch Times about its agreements with the Chinese university, or about the researchers.

It’s unclear whether the researchers ultimately enrolled at NIU.

Epoch Times Photo
A boy looks at the BeiDou Satellite Navigation System at an exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up at the National Museum of China in Beijing on Feb. 27, 2019. (WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images)

Military-Civil Fusion Projects

In August 2016, China’s National Development and Reform Commission issued a plan detailing how geographic information science would figure into economic policies outlined in the 13th Five-Year Plan.

The agency explained that this field would contribute to the mapping needed for the BeiDou system.

Using geographic information science, Beijing had plans to build at least 2,500 reference stations across the country, as well as overseas sites that would enhance the accuracy of positioning.

This sector would “deepen the development of military-civil fusion,” the plan stated. Military-civil fusion refers to the Chinese regime’s strategy of harnessing private-industry innovations to fuel military modernization.

The strategy has drawn the attention of the Trump administration; in early November, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning U.S. investments in a group of companies with ties to the Chinese military.

The U.S. State Department described military-civil fusion as “a national strategy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to develop the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a ‘world-class military’ by 2049 … not just through its own research and development efforts, but also by acquiring and diverting the world’s cutting-edge technologies—including through theft.”

Beidou-3 satellite failed launch
The launchpad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center the day before the BeiDou-3 satellite, the final satellite of China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, was set to launch in Sichuan Province, China, on June 15, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)


The BeiDou system’s military background is well-documented. The project was initiated by military forces in 1983, and the state-run defense company Norinco is its chief designer and developer.

State-run newspaper Beijing News reported in October 2012 that Norinco would donate 500 of its manufactured BeiDou terminal devices to the Beijing city police bureau to assist in its “social stability” efforts—a euphemism for stifling dissent.

Norinco is one of the PLA-linked companies that come under Trump’s executive order. U.S. investors will be given until November 2021 to divest from it and other PLA-linked firms as designated by the Pentagon.

Some officials were more explicit in their explanation of BeiDou’s function.

The director of state-run Xinjiang Satellite Application Engineering Center, Huang Xinli, stated on Sept. 4, 2014, that a good navigation system can guarantee victory during a military conflict, according to a report by news site Yaxin Net.

“Our weapons cannot rely on GPS. Once the United States turns off GPS [during a war], our weapons system will be paralyzed. It’s much safer to use our own navigation system,” Huang told Yaxin.

Huang said that in the Xinjiang region, BeiDou’s “most important use” is to maintain the ruling Communist Party’s stability through surveilling its citizens. Under the guise of combating extremism, Beijing has heavily monitored and suppressed the local population of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, and U.S. officials estimate that about a million people are currently being detained inside concentration camps in Xinjiang.