China’s military cooperates extensively with European scientists to expand its army with new knowledge. This is shown by an international research entitled “China Science Investigation” with the participation of Correctiv, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and nine other media.
Researchers have worked with Chinese colleagues from military institutions on around 350 scientific publications with German participation. It covers the period between January 2000 and February 2022. Germany ranks second in Europe for the number of these studies – surpassed only by the United Kingdom with around 1400 studies and followed by the Netherlands with 288 studies.
Journalists encountered around 3,000 such cases across Europe. The researchers and universities in Germany “sometimes deliberately” ignored or accepted the fact that the studies promoted the expansion of the Chinese army – because the projects offered prestige, money or career opportunities.
The research team found 48 German universities and institutes that work with academic institutions in China despite their possible proximity to the military. These include institutes of the Max Planck Society, the Ruhr University Bochum and the Technical University of Berlin.
Some German universities, for example, have actively cooperated with the Chinese university association “Seven Sons of National Defence” – although this is particularly closely linked to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Most publications appeared in the fields of computer science, physics and materials science, followed by nuclear physics, artificial intelligence and lasers.
The German-Chinese research work brought, among other things, new insights into encryption and decryption technology, robot navigation or the digital tracking of groups of people.
Researchers from the University of Bonn, the University of Stuttgart and the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research have teamed up with the top military university “National University of Defense Technology”. It plays a key role in China’s military research and also works on hypersonic technology or supercomputers.
Sharing these new findings is tricky not only because China’s military uses German knowledge, but also because the Chinese state has been massively violating human rights for years. The province of Xinjiang, where the Uyghur minority with a predominantly Muslim faith lives, is particularly affected.
There the authorities in the cities have created a massive surveillance apparatus, forcibly put Uyghurs in re-education camps and apparently also had them tortured. After the human rights violations became known, the European Union imposed sanctions on those responsible in China; they will apply until the end of the year.
The danger is therefore real that scientific cooperation will also strengthen the Chinese apparatus of repression – among other things through new findings in decryption technology and the digital tracking of groups of people.
At first glance, the denounced studies may seem inconspicuous because their results can be used for civilian purposes. However, according to the experts interviewed, these are cases in which the military can also benefit. Then there is talk of so-called “dual use” applications.
Thomas Hofmann, President of the Technical University of Munich, considers the cooperation between his university and the top military university, the Harbin Institute of Technology, to be “nothing disreputable”, he explained to the international research team. Many innovations can be used civilly and militarily at the same time. “There is no sharp division possible.” “Societies all over the world” would benefit from the research.
So far there are no clear rules and sanctions for military research at universities and other scientific institutions. Jens Brandenburg (FDP), Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), told the research team that they were aware of the problem and were carefully observing risks “related to research espionage and unwanted technology outflow.”
When asked by the media involved, the BMBF continued to insist on the independence of the universities and replied that it was limited to “raising awareness”.