A report conducted in part by the Australian defense ministry shows that military scientists from China enrolling in American and Western universities have been “obscuring” their military affiliation to travel to these countries “where they work in areas such as hypersonic missiles and navigation technology.”
According to the report, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has paid for “more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad” since 2007, particularly in what the Chinese call the “Five Eyes countries”: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Australia has been the hardest hit by the foreign influence, with up to six times as much collaboration compared to the United States. The Chinese reportedly refer to this tactic as “picking flowers in foreign lands to make honey in China.”
The report says:
Helping a rival military develop its expertise and technology isn’t in the national interest, yet it’s not clear that Western universities and governments are fully aware of this phenomenon. Some universities have failed to respond to legitimate security concerns in their engagement with China. Current policies by governments and universities have not fully addressed issues like the transfer of knowledge and technology through collaboration with the PLA. Clear government policy towards universities working with the PLA is also lacking.
The rivalry between China and the United States has taken a turn for the worse since President Donald Trump assumed office and wagered a trade war against the world’s growing economic superpower. It still remains unclear what President Trump’s response to the report will be. The government should consider limiting its foreign investments in the science and technology fields and limiting the amount of technological data that can be transferred to a foreign country by foreign students.
And it is certainly clear that the government and universities need to engage in more extensive vetting and background checks of their schools’ international applicants.