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In April 2017 a joint centre for advanced science and technology research was launched at the University of Technology, Sydney. The partner and funder is the China Electronics Group Corporation (CETC), one of China’s largest state owned-enterprises.
Beijing’s influence in Australia has long caused unease and prompted difficult questions. Our relations with China are vital to our economy and future prosperity. But as Beijing’s overt and covert influence continues to increase, tougher decisions will need to be made about how to navigate the relationship, particularly when it comes to engaging with political actors such as China’s government-controlled companies.
China is playing an increasingly large role in our strategic science and technology sector. This, and investment in the sector from other overseas governments, needs to be debated. Because as Australia seeks to defend itself from cyber espionage and hi-tech military advancements occurring around the world, some of our organisations may be unknowingly aiding the very same overseas state actors, putting Australia’s national security at risk. This is why the new partnership with CETC should pique public interest.
It is not remarkable that a Chinese state-owned enterprise, or its subsidiary, is funding an Australian university by as much as “$20m over five years”; this has happened before and UTS has been transparent about the funding sources behind this latest international partnership.
What is concerning is that this partnership will “gradually extend to include other Australian and Chinese universities as well as the CSIRO, creating an international innovation hub for IET [Information and Electronics Technologies] innovation”. The scientific and technological areas the new joint-centre will focus on – artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and quantum computing – are dual-use technologies that are also at the forefront of military modernisation.
CETC, an organisation with some 140,000 employees, is a broad church and includes solar power technology, consumer electronics and infrastructure design.
But CETC is also one of the largest and fastest-growing defence companies in China and it has a close relationship with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In fact CETC has described itself as “one of the top 10 military industry groups controlled directly by the central government”.
To read the entire article by Danielle Cave and Brendan Thomas-Noone, visit The Guardian.