CHINA WATCHEuropean Academics Helping China’s Military

By Naomi Conrad, Esther Felden, and Sandra Petersmann

Published 19 May 2022

European researchers have cooperated with China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT). The NUDT’s purpose is to “Strengthen the Armed Forces and the Nation.” An investigation by 10 European news outlets has found nearly 3,000 scientific publications by researchers affiliated with European universities and their counterparts at military-linked institutions in China — most notably the NUDT.

The promotional video for China’s elite National University of Defense Technology is set to dramatic music. In quick succession, soldiers run behind tanks, guns blazing, followed by uniformed NUDT professors addressing attentive students.

We dedicate our lives to the modernization of the national defense army,” a narrator intones.

The NUDT is the alma mater of a Chinese student who subsequently did his Ph.D in Germany, conducting research that may have had potential military applications.

Yet the German professor who supervised the student’s PhD readily admitted in a recent phone call that he had never given his student’s military affiliation much thought.

A note of regret crept into the professor’s voice as he recalled the friendly and “outstanding” student, whom he had been proud to host at his institute of computer sciences in a small university town. He said he had been sorry to see the student return to China once his Chinese scholarship ran out.

Upon going back to China, the student took a job with the NUDT.

His former German host knows little about the exact nature of the man’s research. “When you’re at NUDT,” the professor told DW, “you’re not allowed to talk about your work.”

Run by the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, the NUDT plays a crucial role in military research, from hypersonic and nuclear weapons to quantum supercomputers, said Alex Joske, an independent researcher who until 2020 tracked military institutes and labs in China as an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Researchers across Europe have forged close ties with scientists from the NUDT, whose mission is written in bold characters on a gargantuan stone slab close to the campus’s College of Computer Sciences: “Excel in Virtue and Knowledge; Strengthen the Armed Forces and the Nation.”

From AI to Robotics to Quantum
Under the lead of the Dutch outlet Follow the Money and the German investigative nonprofit CORRECTIV, DW and 10 European newsrooms collaborated for several months on the China Science Investigation, which found nearly 3,000 scientific publications by researchers affiliated with European universities and their counterparts at military-linked institutions in China — most notably the NUDT

Though it’s possible that some papers may relate to the same research projects, the overall figure gives an estimate of the extent of the cooperation.

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