Western University reveals no plans to end research ties with China amid security concerns IG News

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CBC News has learned that a western university is collaborating with China on 16 joint research projects and has indicated no plans to end them — despite a growing cloud of suspicion that such agreements are being taken advantage of by Beijing. Is.

The revelation by Western came as several Canadian universities broke their own research agreements with China in the wake of a decision last year by the federal government to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks, citing security concerns. Gave.

The University of Waterloo announced earlier this month that it would end its collaboration with the Chinese phonemaker, a decision that was part of a broader effort to “protect scientific research” at the school.

Western University has many ties to China, but a spokeswoman would not specify whether the school has any partnerships with Huawei, saying research agreements with China-based organizations cover the areas of health, electronics and the environment.

‘Awaiting guidance’ from Ottawa on Western security risks

“Western researchers are currently participating in 16 research projects with Chinese-based organizations,” senior media relations officer Stephen Ledgley wrote in an email to CBC News.

Western universities have been the most transparent, according to McQueig-Johnston, by acknowledging a number of joint research projects with Chinese organizations. (Colin Butler / CBC News)

“We await guidance from the federal government regarding entities that pose a national security risk,” he said.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the agency that provides such guidance, was not immediately able to respond to a request for comment from CBC News.

Universities in Canada once welcomed research partnerships with China, but the federal government has become increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s openness to receiving sensitive taxpayer-funded research to benefit its military. taking advantage of.

In response, the federal government announced in February that it would make Canadian research a “top priority” by banning all research with Chinese organizations with ties to the military. One China expert told CBC News that’s easy to say given the level of integration between civilian and military interests in China.

Western universities may be bound to silence, says China expert

“It’s very difficult for a Canadian researcher to know whether their research and their Canadian innovation that they develop in partnership with a civilian scientist can go out the backdoor to the Chinese military,” Margaret McQuiag-Johnston, said a senior colleague. Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa and member of the Canada China Forum Advisory Board.

University College
University College at Western University, seen here in May of 2023. (Colin Butler / CBC News)

The integration of civilian and military development is being driven by Xi Jinping himself,” she said. “It’s a big focus for China and it’s a risk for Canadians that they can contribute to the development of technologies that our partners can be used against. democracy, Taiwan, or against certain civilian groups within China.”

Western universities have been the most transparent, according to McQueig-Johnston, by acknowledging a number of joint research projects with Chinese organizations.

She said the western prospect could not discuss details of the research due to the nature of the agreement made with the Chinese researchers.

“With a Chinese company they might have a clause in their contract that requires them not to talk about it. So, even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to tell you what they’re doing. ”

He noted that the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto and McGill University in Montreal are among a few Canadian schools that have recently announced the end of Chinese research partnerships with Huawei over security concerns.

According to McQueig-Johnston, for Western University to do so, administrators would need more proof that research could fall into the wrong hands.

“I think they need to see more evidence,” she said. “Especially with the Western, it seems like it’s more complicated than just breaking ties.”

“They should have an informal discussion with those other universities about why they chose to cut off that source of funding and frankly, I think the federal government and the province need to step in and fill this research gap.”