U of Waterloo Professor Denies Knowledge of Adviser Role at Military-Linked Chinese University

The school in question is the Harbin Institute of Technology, which was added to the U.S. Entity List in June 2020 for its links to the Chinese military.
U of Waterloo Professor Denies Knowledge of Adviser Role at Military-Linked Chinese University
The main building of the Harbin Institute of Technology’s main campus, located in China’s Heilongjiang Province, is seen in a file photo. (Shutterstock)
Andrew Chen
University of Waterloo professor Xuemin Shen is seen in a 2019 photograph receiving an “appointment letter” from a leading university in China that has been identified for its ties to the Chinese military. However, the professor denies having any position at that university.
That school is the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), whose main campus is in China’s northernmost Heilongjiang Province. HIT is on the U.S. Entity List, a sanctions list maintained by the U.S. Commerce Department.
In the photo, Mr. Shen is seen receiving a certificate titled “appointment letter” in Chinese from HIT VP Zhen Liang
The photo is featured in an August 2019 news release from HIT’s Shenzhen campus in China’s Guangdong Province. The words “Harbin Institute of Technology, Shenzhen,” in both Chinese and English, can be seen on the wall behind the two men.
Another image from the release shows a screen displaying the Chinese words “Harbin Institute of Technology (Shenzhen), Professor Shen Xuemin, Chief Academic Adviser Appointment Ceremony, Aug. 29, 2019.”
Despite the existence of these photos, the professor, who also goes by the English name Sherman Shen, maintains that he holds no position at HIT at all.
“I am not aware about my position as the ‘chief international academic advisor’ at the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in China at all. This is not true and I never heard about it. I don’t have any position at HIT,” wrote Mr. Shen in an email to The Epoch Times. 
Mr. Shen, who specializes in wireless communications and networking, is a professor in the University of Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
HIT was added to the U.S. Entity List in June 2020 for its links to the Chinese military. The list is maintained by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
According to the bureau, HIT was added for “acquiring and attempting to acquire U.S.-origin items in support of programs for the People’s Liberation Army.” The bureau specifically accused HIT of seeking “to use U.S. technology for Chinese missile programs,” which is “contrary to [U.S.] national security and foreign policy interests.”
Additionally, HIT may have violated United Nations sanctions by providing training to North Korean scientists and engineers, according to the China Defence Universities Tracker of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), citing a 2017 Wall Street Journal article.
Mr. Shen’s profile on the University of Waterloo website does not mention any position at HIT. 

“We do not typically comment on individual employment matters,” Rebecca Elming, director of media relations at the university, told The Epoch Times via email.

She cited two policies in place for guiding staff conduct, specifically Policy 69, which requires disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest, and Policy 49, which requires employees involved in outside research to “fully disclose any external interests and activities that are relevant to conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment to the university.”
The University of Waterloo website does show that Mr. Shen has received many awards and recognitions and undertaken numerous professional activities in various senior roles such as editor and advisory board member. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers, Engineering Institute of Canada, Canadian Academy of Engineering, and Royal Society of Canada.

‘Chief International Academic Adviser Program’

HIT launched the “chief international academic adviser program” some nine years prior to the ceremony at which Mr. Shen was reported to have been appointed chief academic adviser. The program was launched in September 2010, as reported in a news release published by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
The program is an integral part of an initiative to enhance talent training and curriculum development at HIT, Shenzen, to position the school to rival leading universities around the world, the release said.
The academic advisers hired should be internationally renowned scholars or senior management experts who are among the top 100 in their fields and from among the world’s top 150 universities, the program specifies.
These advisers must spend at least two months each year at HIT for three years focusing on teaching reform, curriculum development, basic scientific research, and management services. Additionally, they are to help train young teachers based on standards and experiences from world-class universities.
Mr. Shen told The Epoch Times that “we have stopped to have any academia relation with any university on the U.S. Entity List. I have also stopped many year [sic] ago to consider any student from HIT to study at Waterloo.”
He wrote that the “chief academic adviser” title is a “kind of appreciation title which is similar to ‘guest professor, guest adviser, honorable professor,’” adding that “I visited HIT Shenzhen Campus once and gave a seminar there” and “It could have been in late 2018 or early 2019.”
An HIT, Shenzen, news release from Nov. 22, 2019, lauded Mr. Shen’s selection as a “foreign member“ by the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) and also mentioned Mr. Shen as the school’s ”chief academic adviser.” Membership in the CAE, an institution under China’s State Council, is considered the highest honorary academic title in the fields of engineering, science, and technology in China. 

‘Very High Risk’

The ASPI’s China Defence Universities Tracker designates HIT as posing “very high risk” due to its top-secret security credentials, many defence labs and defence research areas, inclusion on the U.S. Entity List, strong connections to China’s defence industry, and involvement in covert activities.
The tracker is a database of Chinese institutions involved in military or security-oriented science and technology research.
Notably, Mr. Shen also holds the title of honorary professor at two top Chinese universities: Peking University and Tsinghua University, according to his University of Waterloo profile. The ASPI has assessed the two as having “high” and “very high” risk respectively in terms of their connections to the Chinese military and their security credentials.
Concerns have also been raised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). CSIS Director David Vigneault recently spoke at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University regarding China’s threats to innovation, intellectual property (IP), and foreign academic institutions. 
At an Oct. 17 public forum at Stanford that featured intelligence chiefs from the Five Eyes alliance, Mr. Vigneault pointed out that Chinese leader Xi Jinping personally heads the regime’s Central Commission for Military-Civil Fusion Development.
According to the U.S. State Department, this fusion is an aggressive strategy aimed at developing the world’s most technologically advanced military, doing so by eliminating barriers between China’s civilian research and commercial sectors and its military and defence industrial sectors.
“Everything that they’re doing in our universities and in new technology, it’s going back into a system very organized to create dual-use applications for the military,” Mr. Vigneault said at the forum.
Shawn Tupper, deputy minister of Public Safety Canada, testified before the parliamentary committee on procedure and House affairs on March 1 noting that Beijing, as one of its non-transparent means of conducting interference in Canada, relies on individuals without formal intelligence training but who have relevant subject matter expertise, such as scientists and business people.
Mr. Tupper’s notes on “CSIS key messages and threat overview” for the committee included a reference to Beijing’s Thousand Talents Plan (TTP), saying the TTP “seeks to exploit the collaborative, transparent, and open nature of Canada’s private sector, universities and colleges using scholarships, sponsored trips and visiting professorships to recruit individuals to advance PRC [People’s Republic of China] objectives.”
The Epoch Times asked Mr. Shen about the potential implications of his role at HIT in the context of Canada’s growing concerns over the CCP’s IP theft through international talent recruitment projects.

Mr. Shen replied suggesting that The Epoch Times contact HIT for further inquiries. The Epoch Times reached out to HIT, Shenzhen, for comments but did not hear back.