Scientific cooperation with China under microscope in Canada

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On August 26, 2016, the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton.

COD MCLACHLAN / Globe and Mail

The University of Alberta is pursuing extensive scientific collaboration with China that includes sharing and transferring research in strategically important areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

In some cases, professors and researchers at the university set up companies in joint ventures with Chinese companies and state institutions to commercialize Canadian-developed technology.

The University of Alberta declined to discuss its research activities with China, stating that “we have not received any instructions concerning China” from the federal government to prevent its engagement with Chinese institutions.

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The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and US intelligence agencies have warned that Chinese companies and academics are being forced to work with Western researchers along China’s military, security and industrial systems.

Canada-based foundations provide travel to China in exchange for research from academics, scientists

Margaret McAuig-Johnston, a former senior officer of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, said the University of Alberta has been at the forefront among Canadian universities with ties to Chinese counterparts.

“They’ve been a pioneer in Canada over partnering with China -” said Ms. McKeeugh-Johnston, who has a question for the U. of the A. K. China Institute about the loss of involvement in the joint venture. Wrote the letter. Chinese companies or educational institutions.

“All these professors feel that they are doing the right thing by tangling with China and helping China build its potential, but to see ‘Are we being taken to scavengers’ on each deal?” One has to look very carefully and now what is the term plan for technology, ”said Ms. McKigg-Johnston.

US senators want to improve the monitoring of grants and contracts to universities from abroad as part of a bipartisan package of legislation to promote US competition with China in science and technology.

In March, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced that Ottawa would call on universities and councils to develop new risk guidelines to integrate national security considerations into the evaluation and funding of research projects. The guidelines will send a signal to Canadian university researchers who often rely on foreign funds to fund their work, but will not prohibit them from doing so.

The University of Alberta has built close ties with China. Since 2005, under an agreement with China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Yu’s researchers have gained access to at least 50 state laboratories in China, while up to 60 professors have 90 with state and national Chinese laboratories. Grants have been received for over joint projects. .

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Back in 2018, the university accepted a major donation from Hong Kong-based billionaire Jonathan Koon-Shum Choi, a high-status member of the Chinese Communist Party’s political advisory body that has ruled China for 70 years. In the past year, Mr Choi has emerged as an ardent supporter of Beijing’s harsh actions on Hong Kong.

The University of Alberta, however, refused to disclose the size of Mr Choi’s gift, and did not answer questions about whether it would return the money given its strong support for the Hong Kong clampdown.

Dr. Emeritus, Professor Emeritus of Rehabilitation Medicine at AKU. Shravan Kumar said that he has long been concerned about scientific cooperation with China.

“China goes to individual researchers and lures them with money and travel and hospitality and all that and they come for it,” he said. “Chinese policy is to obtain proprietary information by hooks and crooks.”

Canadian universities will have to rethink research arrangements with state-owned and state-champion companies located in authoritarian states, said Stephanie Carwin, a former national security analyst and assistant professor of international relations at Carton University in Ottawa is. Technology can be used in human rights abuses.

“For years, we have been asking universities to go out and get this money and not really pay attention to it. And now we realize that this is a big problem and we have to walk on the break. But we have already removed the rock. “

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In 2019, the UKA signed an MoU to collaborate with the HKAI laboratory in Hong Kong, an incubator for artificial intelligence. HKAI is funded by Alibaba and SenseTime, a Beijing-based AI company that was blacklisted by the US government for a surveillance role in the suppression of Muslim Uygars in Xinjiang.

The university refused to answer questions about this collaboration. The House of Commons unanimously announced in February that China was committing genocide against its Muslim minorities.

The web page for an entity called the Canadian Center for Bioinnovation in Shandong, China, with a U.K. connection, says the organization is “transferring transnational technology” and attracts Canadian talent and projects. Its advisory board includes the University of Alberta’s associate vice president of innovation and commercialization, according to Deborah James, former vice president of research at the university, Lorne Babiuk. He is the Honorary President of the Yantai YEDA International Incubator for the Biomedical Innovation Center, where the Canadian Center is located.

Three professors at the University of Alberta and a postdoctoral researcher have set up a commercial spinoff, Tricca Technologies, which attempts to manufacture and sell biosensors by hand. According to the Corporate Registry of Alberta, the company holds an 8.74 percent stake in the university. In 2018 Tricca entered into a joint venture with Yantai YEDA International Incubator for Biomedical Innovation, which was set up by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Rongchang Pharmaceuticals and the local Chinese government in corporate disclosure statements.

Trika owns 40 percent of the joint venture. The Chinese partner, Yantai YEDA International Incubator for Biomedical Innovation, has a 60-percent stake.

Trica chief executive Scott McKay, who represents the team operating the firm with three U professors, said the funding his Chinese partner brings will help in the commercialization, manufacture and marketing of their products. Some research and development will take place in China and Chinese partners will also bring technology to the enterprise.

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“We believe that there are always risks when sharing R&D results and intellectual property with other companies,” he said. “When we recognize that there are risks with any business partnership, these types of relationships are built on trust. We are working with individuals from China who have a long standing relationship with Canada. “

However, Ms. McKeeugh-Johnston said that the people of Canada should think twice before establishing new research ventures with Chinese partners.

“It’s classic: where 60 percent is owned by China and 40 percent is owned by a Canadian company,” he said of Trika’s joint venture.

It warned of the loss of joint ventures with Chinese partners in a report last year for the China Institute of Alberta. His research pressed dozens of Canadian firms into disproportionate partnerships and often found their Chinese partner trying to handle joint ventures.

Ms McKeeugh-Johnston said the joint venture is China’s preferred system for Western technology firms operating in China and comes from the country’s “indigenous innovation policy”, which aims to reduce China’s dependence on Western products to Chinese Attempts to integrate into products. Western technology down to 30 percent of the Chinese market by 2025.

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