Around 200 British academics and researchers from over 12 universities are reportedly being investigated for unknowingly helping the Chinese government in building weapons of mass destruction. The Times, on Monday, reported that the scientists are being investigated on grounds of breaching the country's export laws designed to protect intellectual property in highly sensitive subjects from being passed over to hostile states.
Security services believe that the information that has allegedly been passed over to China might be used to produce weapons of mass destruction that could be used to suppress political dissidents. If proved guilty, the academics involved in passing over the information could end up serving years in jail.
Who is at Fault?
According to The Times report, which cited sources, the government was readying to send enforcement notices to all these 200 academics suspected of unwittingly transferring research material in advanced military technology such as aircraft, missile designs and cyberweapons to China, which could pose a threat to the UK's security. "We could be seeing dozens of academics in courts before long," a source told the Times. "If even 10 percent lead to successful prosecutions, we'd be looking at about 20 academics going to jail for helping the Chinese build super-weapons," the source added.
The UK government feels threatened that the vital research could be used by China to make weapons of mass destruction which it could use to repress political dissidents and even minorities like the Uighurs.
Meanwhile, research from Civitas, a civil society think-tank based in London, has alleged at least 20 British universities have had dealings with 29 Chinese universities and nine companies that have military links, including those making weapons of mass destruction.
Initial investigations reveal that the academics didn't realize that their research was getting passed on to China but that doesn't make them completely innocent. Referring to the report in the outlet, a British government spokesperson said: "Exporters of military goods and those engaged in the transfer of military technology specified in the Export Control Order 2008 require a license to export or transfer from the UK."
However, the academics didn't do that which is now invited scrutiny in their work and dealings. The lead author of the research conducted by Cavitas, Radomir Tylecote, who was also a former Treasury official, believes that any research sponsored by hostile nations, particularly by companies in China, could have "inadvertent dual use."
The concern further grows given China's attitude and the way it has been displaying its hypersonic missiles lately. Thus any research into hypersonic technology in collaboration with Chinese organizations holds potential risk, Tylecote said.
In 2019, China showcased the DF-17, a new hypersonic ballistic nuclear missile, during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. The weapon is believed to be capable of breaching all existing anti-missile shields deployed by the United States and its allies.
Naturally, the alleged 200 academics being investigated for transferring vital research to China have enough reasons to raise security concerns.