As the U of A is a public institution, surely Alberta taxpayers deserve transparency regarding any money that supports or influences the university’s research.
Under an agreement with China’s Minister of Science and Technology, U of A researchers have had access to at least 50 state labs in China since 2005, while upward of 60 professors have received funding for more than 90 joint projects with state and national labs in China. Likewise, at the University of British Columbia, more than 300 professors have significant professional interest in China, and faculty have partnerships with over 100 Chinese institutions.
But agreements through China’s Ministry of Science and Technology are not like those with partners in democratic societies. These are not simply benign, mutually beneficial collaborations between autonomous scholars seeking to expand the frontiers of science and human understanding, as much as the UFWD would have us believe.
China would not be funding Canadian researchers if there were no ability to access the data which the professors generate. This is about obtaining information or intellectual property that could serve the PRC’s economic and military objectives. Indeed, some Canadian participants over the long term appear to derive significant Chinese income streams beyond their university salaries, through lucrative PRC-associated board appointments and commercial inducements.
The money is an effective device. Chinese grants help Canadians pursue research projects that might not have been so well funded by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The profs gain prestige from undertaking work in important and sensitive areas, enjoy wonderful hospitality in China, and benefit from considerable talented Chinese research assistance — providing they hand over their work to the Chinese state to develop. The strategy spends years cultivating a Canadian target, with the recipients often not fully aware of what they’re getting themselves into.
It is reassuring that Alberta government officials have promised to protect Canada’s national interest by curtailing U of A collaborations with China in strategically sensitive science and technology, but will Ottawa initiate federal legislation such as requiring transparency in reporting of foreign sources of income? There is a powerful pro-PRC lobby in Ottawa, mostly retired politicians who are on China-related boards, including Canadian companies and law firms that benefit from the PRC. In taking China’s money, they are expected to support the interests of the PRC in Canada in return.
Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and non-resident senior fellow of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague. He is a former professor of political science at Brock University, and served as a diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Beijing