Chinese military projects ‘not funded’ by university grants | Australia news

The Australian Research Council has dismissed concerns that university grants are helping to fund projects with links to the Chinese military.

The ARC came under fire last year after reports it was funding research between Australian universities and Chinese state-run enterprises with military links.

Writing in the Australian, outspoken China critic professor Clive Hamilton from Charles Sturt University wrote that the ARC was “funnelling Australian taxpayer funds into research with applications to China’s advanced weapons capacity”.

In 2015 the ARC had awarded a three-year $400,000 grant to the University of Adelaide for a research partnership with the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials.

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Hamilton wrote that the institute is part of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, a state-owned enterprise which supplies military aircraft to China’s air force.

Concerns about Beijing’s influence in the Australian tertiary sector have become increasingly common. Last year the Guardian reported on China’s increasing role in Australia’s strategic science and technology sector.

But in responses to questions from a Senate committee, the ARC has revealed that it looked into the concerns raised by Hamilton and found “no cause for concern”.

“ARC funding rules and ARC funding agreements require institutions to comply with relevant legislation, including the Defence Trade Controls Act,” it wrote.

“The ARC has sought and received assurances from all ARC-funded institutions that they have the necessary processes in place to comply with the Act. The ARC followed up on the allegations raised in The Australian [and] found no cause for concern regarding the identified ARC-funded projects’ compliance with the Act.

“No incidences of non-compliance with the Act have been reported to the ARC. Therefore, the ARC has not had any cause to cease or withdraw funding due to non-compliance with the Act.”

The Defence Trade Controls Act governs the transfer of defence and strategic goods technologies to other countries.

According to the Department of Defence, it aims to “stop technology that can be used in conventional and weapons of mass destruction from getting into the wrong hands” and covers the “intangible supply of technology relating to defence and strategic goods”.

But Hamilton told the Guardian he believed the ARC’s response was “disingenuous” because it failed to account for what he said were inadequacies in the act.

“It’s very apparent that the Defence Controls Act is not fit for purpose,” he said.

“The world has changed. The traditional distinction between civilian and military research is now very blurred. The Chinese government is explicitly integrating those two kinds of research.”

Last month the defence minister Marise Payne announced a review of the act which will consider whether it is “fit for purpose”.

The review’s terms of reference include whether the law “adequately safeguards national defence capability and prevents trade and collaboration that could unwittingly advance the military capabilities of potential adversaries”.

But Labor senator Kim Carr, who raised the issue with the ARC in a senate committee hearing, dismissed the concerns.

“The proposition that has been put forward by some media outlets that the ARC is funnelling research funds into advanced military and ­industrial technology, which threatens Australian security, is simply wrong,” he told the Guardian.

“The ARC has very clear obligations under the Defence Trade Controls Act and liaises with the Department of Defence on each funding announcement, and according to the ARC they have met that obligation.”

The ARC revealed that it had funded 156 projects with links to China, making it the fourth-highest collaborator.

For projects that have a funding allocation in 2018, the ARC said there were 6256 instances of international collaboration occurring across 3831 projects with 123 countries.

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