Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he is unhappy with Canadian universities working with a Chinese military institution on sensitive high-tech research and pledged to introduce new guidelines to bolster research security.
“I am not happy and it’s unacceptable,” Champagne said at the House Standing Committee on Science and Research meeting on Feb. 2.
“I’m looking to impose additional requirements when it comes to strengthening research security in Canada,” he said.
“We need to be eyes wide open, and we need to ensure that sensitive research and our IP [intellectual property] is adequately protected. And when it comes to national security … there is no compromise. So there’ll be new guidelines being issued very shortly.”
The minister was responding to a question about a recent news report, first published by The Globe and Mail, that researchers from some 50 universities in Canada have been collaborating with a Chinese military institution, the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT), on research ranging from quantum cryptography to photonics to space science. The report noted that a research topic on quantum cryptology involves studying how laser interruptions can aid eavesdropping.
NUDT was initially established in the 1950s as the People’s Liberation Army Military Academy of Engineering, and changed to its current name in 1978 “under direct care” of then-Chinese Communist Party chairman Deng Xiaoping, according to the institution’s webpage. It also said that the NUDT has a “unique status” of being under the “direct leadership of the Central Military Commission,” which is China’s top national defence organization, and that the institution is “heavily invested by the state and the military.”
In 2015, the United States banned NUDT by placing it on an export restriction list known as the Entity List, released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. A decision to add NUDT to the Entity List said the U.S. government has reasonable cause to believe that it is involved in “activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”
“This is the same year this Liberal government was elected, and for eight years you haven’t blacklisted the NUDT, like [the United States]. For eight years, this Liberal government hasn’t done anything about national security against the NUDT. Why not?” asked Conservative MP Gerald Soroka.
“You’re looking at the minister who imposed the strictest conditions on research security. And I will continue to do so because as a former foreign affairs minister, I don’t think there’s many people who understand better what we need to do to protect our research and our IP, and I’m very committed,” Champagne said in response.
The innovation minister touted his government’s financial support to Canadian universities and pointed to the nearly $160 million investment in Budget 2022 to implement the National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, which was introduced in 2021 in response to activities by foreign governments, militaries, and other actors that are said to have posed “real risks to Canada’s national security and the integrity of its research ecosystem.”
The Globe’s report, however, noted that the guidelines haven’t deterred Canadian universities from collaborating with China, as none of the top 10 universities that are involved in research projects with NUDT have ceased their collaboration with the Chinese military institute.
It cited a study by the U.S. strategic intelligence company Strider Technologies Inc., which said those ten universities alone have published 240 joint research papers in collaboration with NUDT, with the University of Waterloo topping the list, followed by the University of Alberta, McGill University, University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, McMaster University, Concordia University, and the University of Calgary.