CHINA’S drive to build the world’s most powerful military is being inadvertently aided by “breathtakingly naive” British academics, it has been claimed.
UK universities have produced research about hypersonic missilesCredit: AP:Associated Press
China’s wants to produce its own engines for its stealth fighters but Britain may have inadvertently helpedCredit: Getty
Research into radar jamming, ship building, drones, advanced materials and artificial intelligence is among the research that has been sponsored by Chinese institutions in the UK, warned a report from think tank Civitas.
Much of the research has civilian purpose but UK researchers appear unaware it could also have a dual use for the military.
And many of the studies are also being sponsored by the UK taxpayer through research councils, Innovate UK and the Royal Society.
Nor does there appear to be any concern that Chinese partners are forced by law to hand over their work to the armed forces.
Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told The Sun Online the Chinese were attempting to “strip out” rather than simply co-operate in their work with UK unis.
And he warned the partnerships with China could come with “barbed wire attached” for British academics.
The study alleges 20 British universities have dealings with 29 Chinese universities and nine companies with military links.
Though the report stresses any help is “inadvertent” and no laws have been broken.
University representatives defended their work with their Chinese partners, saying the study “mischaracterised” their relationships and that the co-operation is fundamental for research.
But the study warns there is a “pervasive presence of Chinese military-linked conglomerates and universities in the sponsorship of high-technology research centres in many leading UK universities and in their research relationships”.
China’s militarisation is benefitting directly from this relationship
Among the allegations are that Manchester University has provided China’s main nuclear inter-continental ballistic missile conglomerate with a UK taxpayer-subsidised research centre.
Researchers at the university have also carried out work on hypersonic missiles.
At Imperial College London, research has been carried out into materials to help China build its own stealth fighter engines.
And a Southampton University researcher has worked on large floating structures that can launch aircraft allowing sea and air power projection.
Robert Clark, a defence fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, one of the study’s authors, told The Sun Online “It’s a case of simple naivety in the case of a lot of these universities.
“But it’s breathtaking in its nature. The Chinese find it incredibly easy.”
The report looks at how the Chinese have developed a large and formidable arsenal of these missiles and how research at Manchester University could have help them.
Their primary purpose is to sink aircraft carriers or destroy airfields, in particular US ones.
A Manchester University researcher from the PRC investigated ceramic coatings for hypersonic vehicles with a major military laboratory at China’s Central South University, says the report.
The coatings allow missiles to withstand the extraordinarily high temperatures of up to 3000C the missiles are subjected to in flight.
Manchester states this has a possible “defence purpose” and one of the papers presenting the findings calls these ceramics “desirable for applications [in] defence sectors”.
Another example of Manchester hypersonic research was aimed at generating more powerful thrust.
It was carried out with defence-funded Tianjin University and reads “this extends the velocity range, which is favourable to the acceleration and manoeuvring flight”.
CHINA’S HYPERSONIC MISSILES
China has invested a large amount of money in hypersonic missiles with one goal in mind – keeping the U.S at bay in the event of war.
Whether it’s aircraft carriers or the US air base on Guam, the Chinese military believes the missiles can give them an edge and have been described as “game changers” by Western experts.
The missiles cost just a few million dollars to make and experts believe this allows them to be mass produced and fired in swarms at any foe.
Its newest missile, the DF-17, became fully into operation at the beginning of January after first seen at a parade in Beijing in 2019.
The missile comprises of a rocket with flies to around 25 miles above the earth and then launches a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) armed with a warhead at a target.
The HGV uses the Earth’s gravity to descend speeds of up to 7700 mph and can be steered in flight.
According to the US military, it is accurate to within a few yards and is capable of “extreme maneuvers” and “evasive actions”.
Manchester University also has ties with organisations that work on China’s nuclear weapons.
The university established Sino-British Joint Advanced Laboratory on Control System Technology in partnership with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Through its subsidiary, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), it is the main ballistic missile supplier to China’s nuclear weapons programme.
“In common with many of the facilities we describe, this means Manchester University has provided China’s main nuclear ICBM conglomerate with a research facility subsidised by the UK taxpayer,” says the report.
NUKES OF HAZARD
A paper produced called ‘Robust Cooperative Guidance Law for Simultaneous Arrival’ includes a diagram that appears to show different missiles, or rockets, moving towards the same target.
A University of Manchester spokesman said “processes are in place to allow academics and the University to question any potential for the dual use of research and only engage with external entities within the legal remits of the export control legislation as assessed by the Export Control Joint Unit”.
He continued “all such interactions must be based on government guidance and regulation”.
“The University gives careful consideration to its research collaborations in the light of legislation and government guidance.
“We take all necessary measures to assure ourselves that our research is not used beyond its agreed application.”
The UK taxpayer has provided a Chinese nuclear weapons conglomerate with a lab
Robert Clark said that when writing the report, he was able link military related activities of UK universities’ Chinese partners through open source material.
The report calls for a blacklist of Chinese military-linked universities to be barred from working in the UK and much tougher scrutiny of any national security fears, as exists in the US.
Mr Clark, a former solider who is now working as a defence analyst, concedes there is a genuine desire to collaborate with Chinese universities but chasing cash is also a major reason the universities are willing to work with Chinese counterparts.
“China’s militarisation is benefitting directly from this relationship,” he said.
Some Chinese universities with ties to the UK are those in an elite group known as the defence universities known as the ‘Seven Sons of National Defence’ with extremely close ties to the military.
China’s President Xi Jinping has stated he wants China to have parity with the US by 2027 and to have overtaken its rival by 2049 – 100 years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Study co-author Radomir Tylecote said: “Universities have serious questions to ask themselves about the risks.”
Many of these partners come with very serious strings attached and in this case with barbed wire attached
Tom Tugendhat MP
The report draws particular attention to Imperial College London’s connections to military-linked organisations.
The Imperial Centre for Materials Characterisation, Processing and Modelling is sponsored by the Beijing Institute for Aeronautical Material (BIAM).
BIAM is a subsidiary of the Aero Engine Corporation of China and the Centre is managed by a researcher from the PRC.
Part of its research includes superalloys, which are critical for developing engines for the Chinese stealth fighter jets used by the PLA Air Force and PLA Navy.
Being able to build engines to power the next generation of stealth fighters has been a top priority for the Chinese.
China’s stealth fighter programme may have been inadvertently helped by UK researchCredit: AFP
In August 2020, a researcher at the Centre published the paper on the subject with researchers based at BIAM in Beijing.
An award-winning research project from 2019 at the Centre involved investigating single crystal superalloys within turbine blades to develop jet engines.
It has been reported that AECC has been developing “domestically produced engines featuring single crystal superalloy turbine blades” for China’s J-20 stealth fighter engines.
A spokesperson for Imperial College London said: “These claims completely mischaracterise the true nature of our sponsorship arrangements.
OWN THE SEAS
“In the limited instances where we receive sponsorship from Chinese companies, this is for fundamental scientific research. We do not conduct any classified research.
“Imperial conducts its own due diligence prior to any sponsorship arrangement. We also work closely with the Export Controls Joint Unit and other relevant UK government agencies.
“All relationships with third parties are subject to prior and continued review.
“Our research outputs, which are in the public domain and routinely published in leading international journals, are good for science, innovation and the UK’s global influence.”
A Chinese TV representation of the country’s artificial island plansCredit: Shenzhen TV
Another area of research the report highlights is very large floating structures (VLFS) – or artificial islands.
VLFS are artificial islands would allow improved sea and air power projection into disputed waters, says the report.
A Southampton researcher has investigated very with at least two Chinese military-affiliated institutions.
Pictures of prototypes were first unveiled at the National Defence Science and Technology Achievements exhibition in Beijing.
A photo of a closed-door forum sponsored by the China National Defence University and Peking University showed a People’s Liberation Army officer speaking at a podium in front of a large poster of a VLFS featuring an airstrip
A report from the the People’s Daily newspaper at the time quoted an expert as saying they are “very valuable for military and civilian use”.
A Chinese military officer speaking at the unveiling of the designsCredit: youtube/NavyRecognition
The Financial Times quoted Feng Jun, chairman of Hainan Offshore Industry, a company developing the technology as saying the structures are dual-use.
A Southampton University spokesman said: “Southampton has many active collaborations with research colleagues from China producing work which has the potential to create wide-ranging societal benefits.
“This research is publicly available having been peer-reviewed and published in reputable scientific journals.”
The spokesman said “we also closely monitor and follow UK Government advice on both international matters and on University-business relationships”.
The report says that while “UK taxpayers fund research at universities that risks contributing to the development of China’s military, the UK’s R&D spending on its own defence is anaemic: Volkswagen alone spends more on R&D than the entire UK defence sector”.
According to Mr Clark: “That renders this process a one sided affair to China’s advantage.
“The UK doesn’t get any advantage from this in any way. Financially yes, but we can sort out finance from elsewhere.”
Mr Tugendhat told The Sun Online: “Many UK universities are looking for international collaboration and that’s to be expected.
“But what they have to be aware of is that many of these partners come with very serious strings attached and in this case with barbed wire attached.
“I think that universities need to be extremely careful who they partner with in coming year. It’s pretty poor that some of these things got through.”