By Audrey Fritz
When University College Cork in Ireland withdrew from a partnership with Minzu University of China (MUC) in 2021, speculation city concerns about the MUC’s link to human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This included the arrest of a Uyghur professor at the MUC who was accused of separatism and escalating ethnic tensions.
Speculation, however, has not exposed MUC’s direct involvement in the development of technologies used to oppress ethnic minorities in China.
MUC and Xinjiang University are two universities under the ‘double first class university plan‘which is intended to provide 42 elite Chinese universities with resources to become ‘World class‘ the universities. Both are working on word– and facial recognitiontechnologies used to target ethnic minorities.
These two universities host joint research institutes with iFlytek, a Chinese company sanctioned in October 2019 after being implicated in human rights abuses against Uyghurs, and faculty members worked on projects commissioned by the company.
Xinjiang University and iFlytek jointly operate a Speech and Language Research Lab, through which iFlytek leverages the university’s expertise in Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Arabic languages, thus contributing to the boom from China.speech and language information industry‘.
The lab’s research could improve iFlytek’s speech recognition technology, such as sound “voice print‘which can compare a recording from a phone or an app to a database of tens of millions of voices.
The facial and voice recognition technologies developed by these universities are powered by artificial intelligence, a high priority technology under China’s control military-civil fusion (MCF). Via MCF, China seek leverage the research and development capacities of universities to advance both the national economy and the country’s national defense apparatus.
The plan for double first-class universities aims to to integrate universities in this MCF research and development pipeline where they should to serve as an integral source of scientific and technological innovation, strengthening the results of research in the military and civilian sectors.
The plan stems from previous initiatives, including the project 211 and the most selective 985 project, established in 1995 and 1998. The 39 universities in Project 985 were selected as first-class dual universities, indicating that they have been cultivated for this type of work for more than two decades.
A new update of the ASPI International Cyber Policy Center Chinese defense universities Tracker, built by ASPI analyst Alex Joske in 2019, added 15 new universities. They include 11 of the 42 remaining first-class dual universities not originally covered in the tracker, in addition to Guangdong University of Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences University, Dalian Maritime University and Southern University of Science and Technology. In addition to adding new universities, we’ve also updated existing university entries on the tracker.
The best Chinese universities, especially those of the first-class dual plan, are destined to excel in scientific research for activate the two-way transformation of military and civilian science and technology. Several have established transfer centers that facilitate the development of technologies for MCF.
Guangdong University of Technology, for example, jointly founded the Guangdong National Defense Science and Technology Applications Promotion Center, which produces equipment including military robots, automatic anti-aircraft missiles and other missile defense systems. Because universities are well placed to collaborate in research, these technology transfer centers can apply the research results of international cooperation to their own R&D.
Southern University of Science and Technology takes advantage of its overseas cooperation to improve the research results of its technology transfer center. The center explicitly seeks to collaborate with foreign research institutes, including the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and the National University of Singapore, among others.
Zhengzhou University, one of the 11 first-class dual universities identified above, has integrated very well with the MCF system. It maintains close ties with the University of Information Engineering, which is affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army and known to conduct offensive cyber operations.
The two universities signed an MCF cooperation agreement in the field of cybersecurity and computerization in 2018 with the project to create a common cybersecurity center.
Zhengzhou University is also home to the National Supercomputer Center (Zhengzhou) which, in April, was added to the list of entities considered to be carrying out activities “contrary to national security or the interests of foreign policy of the United States” because of its work on “the supercomputers used by Chinese military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts and / or mass weapons destruction programs ”.
The updated tracker now includes entries on nearly 100 civilian universities, 50 PLA institutions, China’s nuclear weapons program, three institutions of the Ministry of State Security, four universities of the Ministry of Public Security and 12 state-owned defense industry conglomerates.
As these universities continue to accelerate their integration into the Chinese MCF system, it will be important to continue to monitor their activities and contributions. This is of equal importance for governments, universities and private companies around the world to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to inform their collaboration with Chinese research institutions and their funding.
The tracker (and accompanying report) – which became the second most visited ASPI research product of all time – drew a global audience with huge traffic from the United States and China, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, France, Taiwan, Netherlands, Russia and India. With this audience, the tracker aims to better understand the implications of China’s expanding military-civil fusion.
The tracker continues to be a free and public tool tool help universities, governments and the business community to better exercise due diligence in their engagement and collaboration with Chinese entities.
Audrey Fritz is a researcher at the International Cyber Policy Center at ASPI. .
This article was published by ASPI on May 19, 2021.
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