The federal government will no longer fund research with Chinese military and state security institutions and is urging the provinces and universities to adopt similar national-security measures.
Innovation Minister François-Phillipe Champagne announced late Tuesday that Ottawa has instructed the Canada Foundation for Innovation and federal research granting councils to screen funding requests from Canadian universities that are collaborating on sensitive research with China and other hostile states. Those granting agencies include the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, as well as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Late last month, Mr. Champagne vowed to bring in new national-security rules to better protect cutting-edge science and technology from ending up in the hands of China and other hostile countries in response to an investigation by The Globe and Mail, which uncovered extensive collaboration between Canadian universities and Chinese military scientists.
The Globe reported on Jan. 30 that joint projects with China’s National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) included research on topics such as quantum cryptography, photonics and space science. Some of the Chinese military scientists who were involved are experts in missile performance and guidance systems, mobile robotics and automated surveillance.
“Grant applications that involve conducting research in a sensitive research area will not be funded if any of the researchers working on the project are affiliated with a university, research institute or laboratory connected to military, national defence or state security entities of foreign state actors that pose a risk to our national security,” Mr. Champagne said in a statement Tuesday.
He added the government has also written to Universities Canada and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities urging them to follow similar guidelines for all their research partnerships, and “more particularly those partnerships involving sensitive research areas.”
Mr. Champagne said the new policy will be implemented rapidly and in close consultation with government departments, national-security agencies and Canadian research community.
“We will work closely with our university‑sector colleagues to ensure these additional steps are implemented effectively,” he said.
Ottawa put in place stricter guidelines in 2021 to require national-security reviews for academics seeking federal funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). But that did not apply to other federal funding bodies.
Mr. Champagne has acknowledged that The Globe’s reporting on widespread collaboration with the main military university for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) demonstrated the need for further measures. He noted, however, that universities fall under provincial jurisdiction and that he can’t simply ban all university research with NUDT and other Chinese military institutions.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, former executive vice-president of NSERC and now senior fellow at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, called the Canadian government’s announcement “a very good step.”
She said Ottawa should prepare and circulate a comprehensive list of all academic institutions and labs to be avoided.
In China alone, she said there are about 65 universities and teaching institutions for the military. And there are 160 other military-focused labs in civilian Chinese universities, she said. “A list of all of these should be provided to the universities and federal granting councils.”
She said federally funded Genome Canada should also be required to break off research with China’s BGI Group, formerly Beijing Genomics Institute, which works closely with the PLA.
Ms. McCuaig-Johnston said collaborating with civilian researchers in China is also risky because they too are obliged to work with the Chinese military if requested.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong was skeptical of the announcement. He noted Mr. Champagne announced restrictions in 2021 that were supposed to curb such research.
“The government announced a couple of years ago, guidelines that were supposed to prevent research collaboration in sensitive areas with Beijing. Clearly those guidelines didn’t work,” the MP said.
“Now they’re making a second announcement. And, you know, we’ll have to await the details of what exactly the government is proposing here because this is the second time they’ve attempted to protect our national security and intellectual property.”
NUDT was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2015 – subject to export restrictions – because Washington believes it “is involved, or poses a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities that are contrary to the national-security or foreign-policy interests of the United States.”
Researchers at 50 Canadian universities, including the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and McGill University, have conducted and published joint scientific papers from 2005 to 2022 with scientists connected to NUDT, according to research provided to The Globe and Mail by U.S. strategic intelligence company Strider Technologies Inc.
Strider found that in the past five years, academics at 10 of Canada’s leading universities published more than 240 joint papers on topics including quantum cryptography, photonics and space science with Chinese military scientists.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service told The Globe in January that this type of joint research helps China obtain innovative science and technology for economic and military advantage. “The National University of Defence Technology’s name alone suggests there exists a Chinese military component to its activities,” CSIS spokesperson Brandon Champagne said.
NUDT reports to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission and has been lauded by President Xi Jinping as a “highland for training high-quality new military personnel and for independent innovation in national defence technology.”
According to Strider’s research, the University of Waterloo tops the list of such Canadian organizations. From 2017 to 2022, the university’s researchers published 46 papers in collaboration with researchers affiliated with China’s NUDT. Some of that research, published in 2018 and 2020, involved photonics, a key enabling technology for many emerging national-security systems.
The University of Alberta was the second leading organization involved with NUDT, followed by McGill University, University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, McMaster University, Concordia University and the University of Calgary.
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, February 14, 2023