China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is expanding its research collaboration with universities outside of China. Since 2007, the PLA has sponsored more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad and has developed relationships with researchers and institutions across the globe.
This collaboration is highest in the Five Eyes countries, Germany and Singapore, and is often unintentionally supported by taxpayer funds. Australia has been engaged in the highest level of PLA collaboration among Five Eyes countries per capita, at six times the level in the US. Nearly all PLA scientists sent abroad are Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members who return to China on time.
Dozens of PLA scientists have obscured their military affiliations to travel to Five Eyes countries and the European Union, including at least 17 to Australia, where they work in areas such as hypersonic missiles and navigation technology. Those countries don’t count China as a security ally but rather treat it as one of their main intelligence adversaries.
The activities discussed in this paper, described by the PLA as a process of ‘picking flowers in foreign lands to make honey in China’, risk harming the West’s strategic advantage.
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. Some universities have failed to respond to legitimate security concerns in their engagement with China. Current policies by governments and universities have not fully addressed issues like the transfer of knowledge and technology through collaboration with the PLA. Clear government policy towards universities working with the PLA is also lacking.