European universities partnered with Chinese military on 3,000 studies in two decades
European universities have collaborated with military universities in China on 2,994 studies since the turn of the century, according to the China Science Investigation, a major study of 350,000 scientific publications by European journalists, Follow the Money, and RTL Nieuws.
Dutch universities were involved in 288 studies - the third most after Great Britain (1,389) and Germany (349). The vast majority of the studies (2,210) were conducted with military scientists from the National University of Defense Technology - China's main military university, which is under the direct authority of the Chinese military and regime. According to RTL Nieuws, China's collaboration with European universities was on scientific knowledge for weapon technology, unmanned vehicles, drones, robotics, and semiconductors.
When President Xi Jinping took office at the end of 2021, China was lagging far behind the West technologically. Since then, the communist country has worked towards becoming economically and militarily independent from the West by 2049. To achieve that goal, the country invested heavily in the development of its universities and cooperation with foreign countries to acquire knowledge, according to RTL.
"This kind of scientific research is at the service of China's defense apparatus," said Danny Pronk, a defense expert at the Clingendael Institute. China uses the knowledge gained through collaboration with EU universities for the "modernization and development of the People's Liberation Army of China," he said. For a long time, universities saw cooperation with China as an opportunity that also brought in a lot of money. "We were pretty naive about that," Pronk said. "Now the security aspects of that collaboration are becoming more tangible."
"I fear that vital technology and knowledge have already leaked away. On some fronts, it may already be too late," Pronk said to RTL Nieuws. "The Netherlands must determine much more strictly in which fields it is and is not allowed to collaborate with Chinese scientists."
Dutch universities told the broadcaster that they value academic freedom. But they've also paid more attention to the risk of high-tech knowledge leaking away in recent years.