Steven Chase, Robert Fife
May 24, 2021
-The Globe And Mail
Alberta has ordered its four major universities to suspend the pursuit of partnerships with individuals or organizations linked to the Chinese government or ruling Chinese Communist Party, citing concerns over national security and the risk that the research could be used to facilitate human-rights abuses.
The order affects the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge and Athabasca University, institutions with a strong research focus in the province.
Demetrios Nicolaides, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education, has also requested that the boards of governors at these universities prepare reports within 90 days that detail all agreements, research relationships, institutional relationships and joint ventures under way with entities connected to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In addition, he asked for details on the “scope and scale” of any university ties to Chinese companies, government agencies or institutions.
In a May 20 e-mail that Mr. Nicolaides sent to the board chairs of the four affected universities, he also asked that their reports address the “implications of withdrawing” from these relationships.
Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail reported on the University of Alberta’s extensive scientific collaboration with China that involves sharing and transferring research in strategically important areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.
There are rising concerns among Western countries about China’s efforts to scour the world for technology that has both civilian and military value, what Richard Fisher, senior fellow on Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center think tank, has called a global “intelligence vacuum cleaner.”
A few years ago, a study by the Australian Strategy Policy Institute found that Canada has become the third-largest destination for scientists affiliated with the Chinese military.
The University of Alberta and University of Calgary said Sunday that they are reviewing the minister’s e-mail and had no immediate comment. The other two universities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An Alberta government source said the U.S. government, in particular, has privately flagged collaboration between the province’s universities and China as an issue of concern. The Globe is not identifying this individual because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Technology developed “at Alberta universities could be used to forward the aims of the People’s Republic of China’s [PRC] military and security apparatus,” Mr. Nicolaides warned the universities in his e-mail. “Research originating in Alberta’s taxpayer-funded postsecondary institutions could be used to undermine Canada and her democratic allies and to facilitate the People’s Republic of China’s human-rights abuses at home against its citizens.”
“I hope you agree that such an outcome would be wholly unacceptable and morally deplorable,” the minister wrote.
“To this end, I ask that your institutions pause the pursuit of any new or renewed partnerships with PRC/CCP-linked entities, undertake a thorough review of your institution’s relationships with entities potentially linked to the PRC/CCP, and ensure these ongoing partnerships follow stringent risk assessments and due diligence.”
In his e-mail, the provincial Advanced Education Minister said Alberta’s concern is the same as concerns that have emerged in allied countries from Australia to the United States.
“Among Canada’s allies, serious concerns have been raised regarding university partnerships with entities and/or individuals linked to the People’s Republic of China and the ruling Chinese Communist Party,” he wrote.
“Alberta, with our world-class institutions, is not immune to foreign exploitation.