CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian universities should be barred from partnering with more than 100 Chinese counterparts because they have close ties with the military in Beijing, a leading think tank has said.
Australian universities earlier this month pledged to consider any military ties that a higher education facility has when considering joint research projects as part of Canberra’s drive to limit foreign interference.
Using open source data, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a report published late on Monday that 115 Chinese universities have alleged links with military research, or human rights abuses – ties which should prevent Australian universities from partnering with them.
“There’s a growing risk that collaboration with PRC universities can be leveraged by the People’s Liberation Army or security agencies for surveillance, human rights abuses or military purposes,” said Alex Joske, an analyst at ASPI.
Foreign students are worth about A$35 billion ($24 billion) a year to the Australian economy. Chinese students account for about a third of that figure and Australia is worried that China could use this position to gain influence over its universities.
Beijing has previously denied any improper activities, accusing Australia of adopting a “Cold War mentality”.
Relations between Australia and China have been strained in recent years over Australian fears of Chinese activity, both domestically and throughout the Pacific region.
Tension between the two countries was further exacerbated when Reuters reported Australian intelligence had determined that China was responsible for a cyberattack on its national parliament and three largest political parties before the general election in May. China has denied the allegations.
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Tom Brown