Many Chinese military scientists working on strategic research at Western universities have deliberately concealed their ties to the army, according to new research. That's sparked concerns of host institutions unknowingly contributing to Beijing's defense prowess.
In a report this week, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said it discovered two dozen new cases of scientists from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) — the umbrella term for China's ground, naval and air forces — traveling abroad "using cover to obscure their military affiliations."
"These scientists use various kinds of cover, ranging from the use of misleading historical names for their institutions to the use of names of non-existent institutions," the Canberra-based think tank found.
Most were Australia-bound and studied topics such as hypersonic missiles and navigation technology, according to the study. The majority came from top Chinese military academies such as the National University of Defense Technology, which is led by the state-run Central Military Commission.
Other popular destinations included the European Union and the United States — countries that view Beijing as an intelligence adversary. These nations, however, may be oblivious to their inadvertent role in China's military advancement, according to the report's author Alex Joske: "Helping a rival military develop its expertise and technology isn't in the national interest, yet it's not clear that Western universities and governments are fully aware of this phenomenon."
ASPI's findings come amid widespread fears of Beijing using education, spying, political donations and people-to-people diplomacy to gain a greater clout abroad. The issue threatens to further strain relations between China and Western economies at a time when Beijing is dominating the global trade conversation.