Commentary, Opinion

McGill must cut ties with Chinese military research

On Jan. 30, The Globe and Mail reported that top Canadian universities, including McGill, have been conducting joint research with scientists at China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT)—a military research institution run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As Beijing is rapidly developing its military capabilities, strengthening ties with Russia, threatening the sovereignty of Taiwan, and militarizing the South China Sea, this is no time to be collaborating with its top military scientists. 

The University of Toronto, Waterloo, and McGill are among the 10 universities that published the most joint papers with researchers at universities associated with China’s military. Some of these papers focus on the development of technologies in areas relevant to defence, such as photonics and quantum cryptography. Many of the Canadian researchers’ collaborators at NUDT are experts in missile performance and guidance systems and automated surveillance. The United States blacklisted NUDT in 2015 due to concerns that it was involved in activities contrary to national security interests. 

The sharing and development of technology relevant to defence with China’s premier military research institution threaten Canada and its allies’ security. NUDT is under the direct control of China’s Central Military Commission, and President Xi Jinping himself praised it as a source of high-quality military technology and personnel. Though researchers may not realize it, the primary purpose of NUDT is to strengthen the Chinese military, and their collaboration with the institution could have serious national security implications if tensions between the countries were to flare. The Canadian Security Intelligence Agency has warned that, due to China’s new strategy of fusing military and civilian research, any joint Canadian research targeted by the CCP may contribute to China’s military modernization.

Some have argued that collaboration with foreign universities advances science globally and should be allowed on the premise of academic freedom. After all, joint research is published in widely available peer-reviewed academic journals. But even if we disregard this research’s impact on international security, there are plenty of ethical reasons to cut ties with the CCP and its military. 

Xi Jinping is the authoritarian leader of the CCP and the Chinese state. Under his leadership, the CCP allows no political freedom and uses intimidation and surveillance to tightly control Chinese society. The Students’ Society of McGill University raised alarm about the CCP’s genocide of Uyghurs and demanded that McGill divest from companies that produce surveillance technology for the CCP and profit from Uyghur forced labour. While this sends a strong message that the McGill student community condemns the CCP, the evidence is mixed on divestment, with many studies finding that it has no effect on the stock price of the offending companies. One way McGill could truly demonstrate its commitment to human rights would be to cut ties with NUDT, as it is directly controlled by the CCP. 

Canadian universities have defended the practice of cooperating with Chinese military scientists by citing Ottawa’s lack of guidance on the issue. Thankfully, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced on Thursday that stricter guidelines for joint research with foreign universities were in the works, though he cautioned that the federal government had limited influence over Canadian universities since they fall under provincial jurisdiction. Under the current regulations, federal funding for “higher-risk” research partnerships is subject to a national security review. Nonetheless, Canadian universities continue to work with NUDT and receive funding from China—money which is not subject to review by Canadian security agencies. 

McGill shouldn’t need Parliament to tell it what is ethical and what is not. Any collaboration with China’s top military university raises national security risks and necessarily condones the CCP’s human rights violations. McGill should cut ties with NUDT and increase transparency about the political implications of its joint research going forward.

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  1. In the decade before 1964 McGill University under the guise of the Cold War collaborated with the U.S. Government aka, the CIA and used funding from a front organization of the CIA to perform Human Experimentation on patients of the Allan Memorial Institute. Remembering that in 1946 that McGill University participated in the Nuremberg Trials , their representative being Dr Ewen D. Cameron. Several doctors were hung shortly thereafter and yet by 1948 McGill allowed the Allan Memorial to start the beginnings of a programme that are now know as the “Montreal Experiments” or from the CIA perspective MK ULTRA subProject#68 ( see us on FB) To this day McGill refuses to acknowledge or apologize for the devastating results of those experiments.

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