A congressional committee on national security threats from China said it had “serious concerns” about a research partnership between the University of California, Berkeley and several Chinese entities, claiming the collaboration’s cutting-edge research could help the Chinese government an economic, technological or military advantage.
In a letter sent last week to officials at Berkeley and the University of California system, the Chinese Communist Party’s House Select Committee requested extensive information about the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute, a partnership established in 2014 with the prestigious Tsinghua University in China and the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
The letter pointed to the institute’s research into certain “dual-use technologies” used by both civilian and military institutions, such as advanced semiconductors and imaging technology used for mapping terrain or driving autonomous cars.
The committee also questioned whether Berkeley had properly disclosed Chinese funding for the institute, citing its collaborations with Chinese universities and companies that have been subject to sanctions by the United States in recent years, such as the National University of Defense Technology, the telecom company Huawei and the Chinese drone maker DJI.
It also said that the Berkeley faculty working at the institute has received funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other US funding for military application development, raising concerns about China’s access to those experts.
In April, for example, a team from a Shenzhen-based lab that describes itself as backed by the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute said it had won a competition in China to optimize a type of advanced chip technology that the US government is now trying to develop. prevent Chinese companies from taking over, the letter said.
It’s not clear what role the university played in that project, or whether the partnership or the institute’s other activities would violate US restrictions on China’s access to technology. In October, the United States placed significant limits on the type of advanced semiconductor technology that could be shared with Chinese entities, citing the activity as a threat to national security.
“Berkeley’s PRC-backed collaboration with Tsinghua University raises many red flags,” the letter said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. It was signed by Representatives Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the committee, and Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the Education and Labor Committee.
In a statement to The New York Times, UC Berkeley said it took national security concerns “very seriously” and was committed to full compliance with laws governing international academic engagement.
“The campus is reviewing previous agreements and actions involving the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute or related to the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute” and will “fully and transparently cooperate with all federal investigations,” he said.
The university also said it had responded to inquiries from the Ministry of Education with detailed information on gifts and contracts related to the institute, committed to fully complying with laws governing such arrangements and that it was “following the example of Congress and federal regulators. in evaluating proposed research relationships with foreign entities.”
Universities have also emphasized that foreign governments may have little to gain from infiltrating such partnerships, as academic researchers focus on basic research that, while potentially valuable, is immediately published in academic journals for all to see.
“As a matter of principle, Berkeley conducts research that is openly published to the entire global scientific community,” the university said in its statement.
The letter and other allegations from members of Congress about US universities partnering in China underline how a rapid evolution in US-China relations is putting new pressure on academic partnerships designed to share information and break down barriers between the countries. breaking through.
The Chinese government has attempted to improve the country’s technological capacity through legitimate commercial partnerships, as well as espionage, cyber theft and coercion. Those efforts — along with a program to fuse military and civilian innovation — have sparked backlash in the United States against ties to Chinese academic institutions and private companies that seemed relatively harmless a decade ago.
The select committee, set up this year, describes its mission as reaching consensus on the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party and developing a plan to defend the United States. The bipartisan committee, which is led by Republicans, can make legislative recommendations but cannot enact legislation itself. It has been busy naming and shaming big business and others for their ties to China in congressional hearings, investigations and letters.
Tensions between the United States and China are high and some lawmakers have called for the two economies to be decoupled. But cutting academic ties is a tricky prospect. American universities are focused on open and collaborative research and employ many Chinese scientists. China’s important technology industry and vast number of science and technology doctorates make it a natural magnet for many research collaborations.
Yet the rapid expansion of export controls in the United States is placing more restrictions on the type of information and data related to advanced technologies that can be legally shared with individuals and organizations in China. Under the new rules, even bringing a laptop into China with certain chip designs on it, or giving a Chinese national a tour of a state-of-the-art U.S. chip lab, could be a violation of the law.
The House committee asked the university to provide extensive documents and information about the partnership, including its funding, structure and technology work, by July 27; the current and past affiliations of its alumni; and compliance with US export controls.