Chinese Target UK Universities


U.S. intelligence agencies are encouraging American research universities to develop protocols for monitoring students and visiting scholars from Chinese state-affiliated research institutions, as U.S. suspicion toward China spreads to academia. Since last year, FBI officials have visited at least 10 members of the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 research universities, with an unclassified list of Chinese research institutions and companies.

Universities have been advised to monitor students and scholars associated with those entities on American campuses, according to three administrators briefed at separate institutions. FBI officials have also urged universities to review ongoing research involving Chinese individuals that could have defence applications. While law enforcement agents have discussed university monitoring of other nationalities as well, these FBI briefings addressed visitors from China in particular who are involved in science, technology, engineering and maths.

American agencies use the leverage of existing US Government research funding to wake US universities up to threats from China. British agencies also know the Chinese are penetrating UK universities and should be doing much more of the same here in the UK – less for trade reasons than on national security grounds (the US are currently very concerned about Huawei and the Trump administration has long accused China of stealing American technology, a key factor behind the trade war between the two countries). Biomedical research is one area where the Chinese seem intent on stealing intelligence.

81% of students studying in higher education in the UK are from the UK.  6% are from the rest of the EU and 13% are from the rest of the world. The number of Chinese students far exceeds any other nationality; almost one third of non-EU students in the UK is from China. This is the only country showing a significant increase in student numbers (14% rise since 2012-13). Monitoring of specific Chinese individuals at the university level would have to be done manually, when admitting or employing them, possibly leaving a wide margin of error during evaluation. Focusing on Chinese tutors and professors first would seem the logical way to begin. Compliance systems need to be rolled out on a department-by-department basis and person-by-person level. There are Brits already openly working for the Chinese tied to language schools and Chinese Institutes, with Chinese funding of businesses linked to the more extreme core of Corbyn’s Labour party well established.

In the US Chinese students have come under particular suspicion. More than 340,000 were studying in the U.S. last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Since last July, Chinese students studying, in particular, science and technology fields must undergo additional screening, resulting in delayed visas for hundreds of students. In May, Republicans introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would deny visas to Chinese researchers affiliated with Chinese military institutions.

“The Chinese intelligence services strategically use every tool at their disposal — including state-owned businesses, students, researchers and ostensibly private companies — to systematically steal information and intellectual property,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the Council on Foreign Relations in April.

With Brexit and the expectation of lower corporation taxes under Boris Johnson, Chinese flight capital should be welcomed. There is a mighty job to be done distinguishing good Chinese influence from sinister motives and the UK’s universities are the best place to start implementing protocols more severe than their forerunners to help make the necessary demarcation required for coming years.