Nearly 200 British academics at more than 12 universities in the United Kingdom are being investigated on suspicion of unwittingly helping the Chinese government build weapons of mass destruction, The Times newspaper reported on Monday.
The scholars are suspected of unknowingly breaching export laws designed to prevent intellectual property in highly sensitive subjects from being handed to hostile states, the newspaper said, citing an unnamed source.
The Times said that the government was preparing to send enforcement notices to the academics who are suspected of transferring research in advanced military technology such as aircraft, missile designs and cyberweapons to China.
The individuals could face a maximum of 10 years in prison if found in breach of the Export Control Order 2008.
Security services are concerned that the research could help Beijing develop weapons of mass destruction and be used in the repression of political dissidents and minorities including the Uighurs.
“We could be seeing dozens of academics in courts before long,” a source told the Times. “If even 10 percent lead to successful prosecutions, we’d be looking at about 20 academics going to jail for helping the Chinese build super-weapons.”
A UK government spokesman stressed to the paper: “Exporters of military goods and those engaged in the transfer of military technology specified in the Export Control Order 2008 require a licence to export or transfer from the UK.”
Research from Civitas, a civil society think-tank based in London, meanwhile, has alleged that 20 British universities had dealings with 29 Chinese universities and nine companies with military links, including with Chinese weapons conglomerates, the Times said.
Radomir Tylecote, the study’s lead author and a former Treasury official, expressed concern that research sponsored by Chinese organisations could have “inadvertent dual use” in a military capacity, the paper said. He highlighted potential problems with research into hypersonic technology at a time when Beijing is seeking to develop hypersonic missiles, and graphene research while the material is starting to be used in armoured Chinese helicopters.
The work served to “increase the prestige and business in general of Chinese military-linked universities and military or partially military conglomerates,” the paper quoted Tylecote as saying.
In 2019, China’s military showcased the DF-17, a new hypersonic ballistic nuclear missile, at an enormous military parade at the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The weapon is believed to be capable of breaching all existing anti-missile shields deployed by the United States and its allies.
Last week, the University of Manchester ended a research project with China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) after a UK parliamentary committee raised concern that the state-owned firm’s technology was being used against the Uighurs.