Burton: Time for transparency in China’s dealings with Canadian universities

Indeed:

Canada’s free society is based on cultural expectations of reciprocal fairness and goodwill in our dealings with fellow citizens. This is what makes Canada a great place to live, and so attractive to immigrants. But our trusting nature is also vulnerable to being exploited by foreign actors with agendas that threaten our security and sovereignty.

In the case of China, its intricate manipulation practices have had enormous success in transferring research data from Canadian universities in strategically sensitive areas that serve PRC purposes. According to former CSIS director Richard Fadden, these areas include avionics, space technology, nuclear science and high-level optics research.

The fact is, China’s interference and espionage activities are hiding in plain sight in our open institutions. We need transparency about what these activities comprise, which Canadians are receiving benefits from agents of foreign states, and what form these benefits take.

Recent and troubling media reports reveal that, in 2018, the China Institute at the University of Alberta accepted a major donation from Hong Kong-based billionaire Jonathan Koon-Shum Choi, but refuses to disclose the size of Mr. Choi’s gift, the purposes to which the money has been allocated, and who are the de facto beneficiaries of this largesse.

Choi is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), part of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), whose main mission is to gain outside support for Beijing’s political agenda.

As the U of A is a public institution, surely Alberta taxpayers deserve transparency regarding any money that supports or influences the university’s research.

Under an agreement with China’s Minister of Science and Technology, U of A researchers have had access to at least 50 state labs in China since 2005, while upward of 60 professors have received funding for more than 90 joint projects with state and national labs in China. Likewise, at the University of British Columbia, more than 300 professors have significant professional interest in China, and faculty have partnerships with over 100 Chinese institutions.

But agreements through China’s Ministry of Science and Technology are not like those with partners in democratic societies. These are not simply benign, mutually beneficial collaborations between autonomous scholars seeking to expand the frontiers of science and human understanding, as much as the UFWD would have us believe.

In China, professors are cadre-ranked state employees, their research dictated by the state ministries to which their universities and labs are subordinate. Their ultimate goal is to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s five-year plans for domestic development and global geo-strategic advantage.

China would not be funding Canadian researchers if there were no ability to access the data which the professors generate. This is about obtaining information or intellectual property that could serve the PRC’s economic and military objectives. Indeed, some Canadian participants over the long term appear to derive significant Chinese income streams beyond their university salaries, through lucrative PRC-associated board appointments and commercial inducements.

The money is an effective device. Chinese grants help Canadians pursue research projects that might not have been so well funded by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The profs gain prestige from undertaking work in important and sensitive areas, enjoy wonderful hospitality in China, and benefit from considerable talented Chinese research assistance — providing they hand over their work to the Chinese state to develop. The strategy spends years cultivating a Canadian target, with the recipients often not fully aware of what they’re getting themselves into.

It is reassuring that Alberta government officials have promised to protect Canada’s national interest by curtailing U of A collaborations with China in strategically sensitive science and technology, but will Ottawa initiate federal legislation such as requiring transparency in reporting of foreign sources of income? There is a powerful pro-PRC lobby in Ottawa, mostly retired politicians who are on China-related boards, including Canadian companies and law firms that benefit from the PRC. In taking China’s money, they are expected to support the interests of the PRC in Canada in return.

Beijing seems confident that, once Canadian public outrage fades over the latest reports of China’s shameless flouting of the norms of international relations, the Canadians on the PRC gravy train will resume quietly lobbying for Ottawa’s restraint in any new measures. This United Front work is a sophisticated engagement of Canada, and the PRC always seems to end up on top.

Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and non-resident senior fellow of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague. He is a former professor of political science at Brock University, and served as a diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Beijing.

Source: https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-time-for-transparency-in-chinas-dealings-with-canadian-universities/wcm/d6768c22-f35e-4eea-849c-8b41e2bf4191

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to Burton: Time for transparency in China’s dealings with Canadian universities

  1. Robert Addington says:

    Job One for the next government should be to get the pro-China lobby out of Ottawa — including two former prime ministers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: