Engineers trained by Chinese military not monitored while at Dutch universities: report

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China national flagsPhoto: Alan/DepositPhotos

Engineers trained by the Chinese military often come to study further at Dutch universities, with the Dutch government doing nothing about it, according to Nieuwsuur. Using only public sources, the program compiled a list of over 20 Chinese scientists who gradated from a military university in China, and then obtained their PhD at the Delft University of Technology. 

According to Nieuwsuur, many of the Chinese scientists who got their doctorates at TU Delft did not study necessarily military oriented subjects. Instead they went for so-called dual use science - demonstrably focussing on civilian oriented subjects, which can later also be deployed for military purposes. The program mentioned things like models for war simulations and algorithms for analyzing and influencing social media users.

In its recently presented China strategy, the Dutch government specifically warned of the "unintended transfer of knowledge" via universities to China. Yet the government leaves the responsibility of checking PhD students' backgrounds completely in the hands of universities, according to Nieuwsuur. The government "trusts that Dutch parties will find a balance between opportunities and risks", the China strategy states. 

Rob Mudde, vice-rector at TU Delft, told Nieuwsuur that it is inevitable that universities select students based on their scientific qualities, and do not conduct in-depth research into their political background. The government can ask universities to keep their eyes open, he said. But added: "We must stick to our basic principles of open science cooperation on the fringes of science. If the government wants to put limits to that for government reasons, they must say so clearly. And in essence take back the responsibility."

In a response Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education, Culture and Science told the program that she is looking into whether research should be conducted to find out "how a broader knowledge scheme can be set up that looks at risk countries and education and research areas, including training courses where very technical knowledge can be acquired". According to her, the government will use this scheme to "create clearer frameworks for knowledge institutions".