According to a research group, 48 German universities are said to have cooperated with military research institutions in China. This raises the question of how much German scientists will be allowed to dedicate themselves to arming the People’s Republic.
Do German think tanks contribute to China’s military rise? According to research by eleven European media – including the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ), research platform Correctiv and investigative platform Follow the Money – at least the suspicions are clear. Journalists have evaluated 350,000 studies since 2000 for cooperation between European universities and Chinese military universities. The result: 48 German universities cooperated with Chinese military universities, resulting in 349 publications with German participation. What does it mean? Is this against the law? The most important questions and answers.
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Which universities are affected? Most of the publications in which German universities cooperated with military research institutions in China come from the Max Planck Society (39). They are followed by the Ruhr University in Bochum, the University of Hamburg (27 each) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (21). Researchers from the University of Stuttgart are also working with the Chinese University of National Defense Science and Technology (NUDT), according to Deutschlandfunk, the most important university in the Chinese military. 230 out of 349 German-Chinese publications were created alone with NUDT. According to SZ, this military university is under the Central Military Commission, China’s highest defense body. Its president is Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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Why can cooperation be problematic? In principle, cooperation between universities is not unusual. However, research projects are considered risky if they can be used for both civilian and military purposes. This is referred to as dual-use applications. According to independent scientists, some of the affected projects must also be usable for military purposes, so they are dual-use cases, Correctiv reports.
Computer science, nuclear physics and artificial intelligence are among the most popular research areas covered in publications with German participation. Research in this area could, in theory, serve nuclear armaments or be used for independently flying weapons.
China’s development also plays a role in the rating. The country is modernizing its army under President Xi Jinping. Xi also wants to make China a military superpower by 2049, when the People’s Republic of China turns 100 – perhaps with German know-how.
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Isn’t this cooperation with potential military benefits forbidden? Research and education are free in Germany, and this is well established in the German Basic Law. However, according to “SZ”, there are also export controls for intangible goods such as research work. This could therefore include knowledge that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. The Federal Bureau of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) is responsible for this. However, it is not clear how many projects have been approved – Bafa does not comment on individual requests.
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What are universities doing to prevent unethical cooperation? According to Correctiv, many German universities refer to internal risk checks and guidelines such as those of the German Research Association (DFG). For example, the Max Planck Society has established a committee for ethics in security-related research that researchers can turn to. The University of Stuttgart, which according to Correctiv is working on an encryption technology using NUDT, is ruling out dual use.
How do observers assess the whole thing? According to various reports, security authorities have warned about China’s interest in Western technology for some time. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution warns on its website that German researchers are not aware of all the risks – or willfully ignore them. In addition, there are always voices from the flag calling for greater awareness of the dangers of cooperation with the People’s Republic.
Countries that cooperate extensively
The research team identified 2,994 scientific papers across Europe in which European universities and military universities from China participated. By 1389, most of the research work was in Great Britain. Germany ranks second with 349 publications, ahead of the Netherlands (288) and Sweden (230).
In the past 10 years, the number of cooperation with Chinese military research institutions has increased, according to the Dutch survey platform Follow the Money, which conducted the research.