China warning as Imperial College shuts Beijing-linked labs

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Following the refusal from the Government to grant export licenses to two Imperial College labs, the university has decided to close the labs that were run in partnership with big Chinese defence contractors. The centres will close before the end of the year, and it comes after the Government’s export control joint unit, part of the Department for International Trade, turned down applications to export sensitive research and technology.

The applications reportedly failed to meet strategic export licensing criteria, which can include mulling over whether it is in the national interest to send equipment or capability to a rival. But the trade department has not fully explained the refusals.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which worked on aerospace design and manufacturing techniques, sponsored one of the Imperial labs. But the firm had sanctions slapped down by the US as it is a major supplier of fighter jets to the Chinese military.

Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials, which researched high- technology aerospace materials, sponsored the other lab. This firm is a subsidiary of Aero Engine Corporation of China, which is also sanctioned by the US as it supplies jet engines to China’s military.

A report by The Times has revealed that Imperial received £5million from three Chinese defence contractors hit with US sanctions for aerospace research between 2015 and 2021. It also accepted £55million from Chinese firms during this period.

While Robert Clark, a director at the think tank Civitas, welcomed the closures, he urged Imperial to review other research groups.

He said: “Imperial still operates a jointly funded lab with Shougang Group, a Chinese state-owned steel conglomerate which has an active role in the . . . military industry in China.”

A spokesman for Imperial College said: “All partnerships and collaborations undergo thorough scrutiny and are regularly reviewed . . .in line with our commitments to UK national security.”

This comes after spy chiefs from the US and the UK warned that China is conducting “hostile activity” on “UK soil right now”.

MI5 director Ken McCallum warned that Chinese intelligence, which is “the most game-changing challenge we face”, is trying to take advantage of the UK’s “world-leading expertise, technology, research and commercial advantage”.

Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has previously warned about Chinese firms pumping funds into UK universities, warning that it is an attempt to steal British technology

He told back in July: “We should stop the way they are pouring money into UK universities and their view of that is to get technology from these universities.

“And also knowing that many of the future establishments will be drawn from these institutions, they are trying to subvert them. This is all part of the game and everything they do revolves around that.”

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Former Science Minister Lord Jo Johnson (Boris Johnson’s brother), has also co-authored a report raising the alarm over China and Russia forming a scientific collaborative axis.

In it, he warned that the UK “urgently” needs to step up the monitoring of its China ties, or else British universities “risk passively slipping into ill-informed policy extremes”.

He added that Britain’s universities should ”prepare for the worst by diversifying their academic partnerships and international student bodies to mitigate the risk of financial and strategic dependencies on potentially hostile autocratic countries”.

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