Chinese Regime Using Australian Scientists in Quest for Tech, Military Dominance

Chinese Regime Using Australian Scientists in Quest for Tech, Military Dominance
A woman walks past signage for Australian universities in Melbourne's central business district on June 10, 2020, as Australian officials and leading universities rejected China's claims students should be "cautious" in choosing to study Down Under because of concerns over racist incidents during the coronavirus pandemic. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

CANBERRA—A new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) shows how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been using illegal and underhanded methods to obtain research and technology from around the globe in its quest to become the world's preeminent military power.

Official statistics show China recruited around 60,000 overseas scientists, academics, entrepreneurs and researchers between 2008 and 2016 using more than 200 overseas talent recruitment programs and at least 600 CCP overseas talent-recruitment stations, noted Alex Joske, the author of the ASPI report, Hunting the Phoenix.
The report explains how the CCP under the guise of reversing China's brain-drain recruited thousands of overseas scientists, including western academics and entrepreneurs in overseas talent recruitment programs such as the Thousand Talents Plan.

"The CCP views technological development as fundamental to its ambitions. Its goal isn't to achieve parity with other countries, but dominance and primacy," Joske wrote.

ASPI singled out the United States as having the highest number of CCP talent-recruitment stations—146 of them. Australia and Germany have the second-highest number of CCP talent-recruitment stations, with the two countries having 57 stations each.

The organisations running recruitment stations can receive as much as ¥200,000 (A$40,000) for each person they recruit, and as much as ¥150,000 (A$30,000) a year for general operation costs, the report stated.

Many recruits are given bountiful research funding and even new laboratories in a Chinese university and team of research staff.

Under the terms of the programs contract, the Chinese government owns the copyright of any research, inventions, patents or other intellectual properties produced by the academic for the duration of the agreement.

"The CCP treats talent recruitment as a form of technology transfer," Joske stated in the report, noting that participants in the programs often collaborate on dual-use technologies with Chinese institutions that are closely linked to the CCP-led military People's Liberation Army (PLA).

According to Joske, China views the talent-recruitment schemes like the Thousand Talents Program as the answer to its push to dominate future technologies and revive its military.

"The deepening of 'military-civil fusion' (a CCP policy of leveraging the civilian sector to maximize military power) means that China's research institutes and universities are increasingly involved in classified defence research, including the development of nuclear weapons," the report said.

Clive Hamilton, an author and professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, noted last year in The Conversation that several G8 universities including the University of New South Wales, University of Technology Sydney, and the Australian National University, have had multiple scholars and joint programs with civil-military organizations.

Of concern to both Joske and Hamilton has been the engagements with Chinese state-owned defence conglomerate China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) which specializes in developing military electronics, drone swarms and radar system.

A report by the Jamestown Foundation, notes that CETC openly declares that its purpose is "leveraging civilian electronics for the gain of the PLA (People's Liberation Army) and a majority of its products and services are destined for state and military customers."

Currently, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has signed a $10 million partnership with the CETC to develop AI, Quantum Computing and Big Data technologies.

Joske also details in his report how one Australian university scientist set up a laboratory and an artificial intelligence (AI) company in China through funding from a CCP talent-recruitment station. The company later supplied surveillance technology to CCP authorities in Xinjiang.

Surveillance Tech Used to Aid Human Rights Abuses

Amnesty International has identified the Xinjiang province of China as a hotbed for human rights abuses since the CCP initiated an anti-religious re-education campaign on the regions indigenous Islamic Turkic inhabitants, including Uyghurs, ethnic Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.
Reports from Uyghurs in Xinjiang show that those interred in the camps are subjected to forced political indoctrination, forced sterilization of women, torture, and forced labour. Experts from the Council on Foreign Relations argue this has been made possible by the CCP's ability to turn Xinjiang into a surveillance state that relies on cutting-edge technology to monitor millions of people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Aug. 27  that the government would be legislating a new Foreign Relations Bill aimed at providing the federal government with the power to view and veto agreements between foreign governments and Australia's state, territories and institutions.
Speaking on Radio 2SM on Aug 28 Morrison said that the new bill would give the government the ability to stop foreign entities chipping away at the government foreign policy that will protect and promote Australian national interest.

"When people elect a federal government, they elect it to look after our relationships with the rest of the world. They don't elect state governments to do that or local Governments or universities to do that, they elect the federal government to do that. So this just make sure that everybody is heading in the same direction and can't be picked off," said Morrison.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.