Australia: Are Australian universities putting our national security at risk by working with China? - - PressFrom - Australia

Australia Are Australian universities putting our national security at risk by working with China?

22:31  13 october  2019
22:31  13 october  2019 Source:

'Extreme risk' identified in SA buildings due to combustible cladding

  'Extreme risk' identified in SA buildings due to combustible cladding More than 30 South Australian buildings require urgent remedial work to deal with potentially flammable aluminium cladding — but the State Government is refusing to identify which buildings are at risk. The buildings have been identified in a statewide audit, which was launched in mid-2017 in the wake of London's Grenfell Tower fire.The State Government audit's interim report has determined seven privately-owned buildings are at "extreme risk" and require immediate action and remedial work.

a close up of a logo: Four Corners has uncovered extensive collaborations between Australia's leading universities and Chinese entities involved in Beijing's surveillance apparatus. (Four Corners: Georgina Piper)© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Four Corners has uncovered extensive collaborations between Australia's leading universities and Chinese entities involved in Beijing's surveillance apparatus. (Four Corners: Georgina Piper)

Australia's top universities could be aiding the Chinese Communist Party's mission to develop mass surveillance and military technologies, amid rising concerns from Australian intelligence agencies that they are putting national security at risk.

A joint Four Corners-Background Briefing investigation has uncovered extensive collaborations between Australian universities and Chinese entities involved in Beijing's increasingly global surveillance apparatus.

The Chinese Government co-funded at least four University of Queensland courses

  The Chinese Government co-funded at least four University of Queensland courses The revelations come as UQ faces calls to review its lucrative deals with the Chinese Government, after the ABC's Four Corners program revealed its Confucius Institute was involved in curriculum development and honorary staff appointments. The university's vice-chancellor, Professor Peter Hoj, was until recently a senior consultant to and member of Beijing's governing Council of Confucius Institute Headquarters, which is responsible for more than 500 institutes in universities and schools across the world.

At least two of those companies and organisations have been blacklisted in the past week by the US Government, which concluded they were implicated in human rights abuses against China's Muslim minorities.

A major player that has secured a foothold in Australia is Global Tone Communication (GTCOM), a global data-mining company that is majority owned by the Chinese Government.

Four Corners and Background Briefing can reveal GTCOM has signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to test its technology.

GTCOM has boasted of being able to mine data in 65 languages at a rate of 16,000 words per second from websites and social media, and spruiked its connections with multiple Australian universities.

Australian uni delegation to enter new alliance with Chinese unis

  Australian uni delegation to enter new alliance with Chinese unis A group of senior Australian university representatives is travelling to China to expand collaboration and combat negativity about ties to the Asian power.The elite Group of Eight research universities will enter into a new alliance on research collaboration with 11 top Chinese institutions and meet with businesses to ensure students training at Australian universities are meeting the needs of Chinese employers.

Senior Australian security officials have told Four Corners the company's activities are evidence that Beijing is running a global espionage operation through technology companies.

Dr Samantha Hoffman, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said GTCOM's intent is to support the Chinese Communist Party's security interests.

"Whether it contributes to a state security product or propaganda or military intelligence, all of the data they're collecting can then be turned into information that supports those objectives," said Dr Hoffman, who has spent months investigating the company.

"So immediately that raises red flags."

Professor John Fitzgerald, who served as a chair on DFAT's Australia-China Council, said Chinese companies were capitalising on Australia's science and technology expertise.

"Australia's science and technology priorities are being set by the Chinese Government because we enter into collaborations that have really been designed to support China's goals, not ours," he said.

Bye Bye, Bei Bei: National Zoo panda leaves for China next month

  Bye Bye, Bei Bei: National Zoo panda leaves for China next month National Zoo will soon have an empty-nester exhibit on display when Bei Bei, the 4-year-old male offspring of the zoo's giant panda couple, sets out for China next month to help breed more of his species in his parents' homeland.“Bei Bei is part of our family,” Steve Monfort, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo, said in a statement. "We’re sad he’s leaving, but excited for the contributions he will make to the global giant panda population.

"Many universities are very happy to proceed with whatever it is … because of the money and prestige involved.

"There's a possibility that some of this research will go towards uses which could place Australia at risk."

A spokesman for UNSW said GTCOM had "no influence on any of UNSW's programs".

"The university … is keen to pursue greater transparency as well as increased [Australian] Government collaboration … to ensure its operations are always in line with the national interest," he said.

GTCOM also shares technology and data with Chinese tech giant Huawei, which is blacklisted by the US and banned in Australia from the 5G network due to security and espionage concerns.

It also has a strategic partnership with Chinese company Haiyun Data, which provides technology for the surveillance of minority ethnic Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

GTCOM partner working with UTS

In January, Chinese media reported on Haiyun Data's announcement of a new joint artificial intelligence laboratory with the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Aus universities prohibited staff from travelling to Iran

  Aus universities prohibited staff from travelling to Iran Universities around Australia have reportedly prohibited staff from travelling to Iran citing fears of increased risk. The University of Western Australia, The University of NSW, Sydney University and the University of Queensland have confirmed the ban, according to Sydney Morning Herald reports.The government previously warned Australians may be at greater risk if they engage in activities that could "attract the attention of Iranian authorities."It was revealed last month - Melbourne University academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert had been held at a Tehran's prison for almost a year.

UTS associate dean and director of its Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Professor Jie Lu, was pictured holding a signed agreement with Haiyun.

Professor Lu was last month awarded a $3.2 million fellowship from the Australian Research Council for a project to enable artificial intelligence to learn autonomously from data.

UTS has told Four Corners there is no joint laboratory and the Chinese media reporting is "a complete misrepresentation".

The university has confirmed it has a research project with Haiyun Data to develop technology for handwriting recognition.

Haiyun Data did not respond to questions from Four Corners.

Former head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre at the Australian Signals Directorate Alastair MacGibbon said universities needed to understand the implications of their international research deals.

"If it's a firm that's backed by a regime … and it's engaging in what could be developments that help suppress people, then that's a dangerous thing," he said.

"It seems as if Haiyun Data has built a relationship with scholars at the university, but we also know that UTS Sydney seems to have signed other agreements that raise major flags," Dr Hoffman said.

In July, UTS launched a review into a separate $10 million deal for a high-tech research centre funded by state-owned military company China Electronics Technology Corporation (CETC).

Press freedom must be 'balanced against national security'

  Press freedom must be 'balanced against national security' Energy Minister Angus Taylor says press freedom “is enormously important to democracy” but “there are times when that’s got to be balanced against national security considerations”. Mr Taylor told Sky News a parliamentary committee into national security and intelligence - due to report back in November – was “absolutely committed to getting the balance right on this”. “I absolutely respect the fact freedom of press is central to democracy, but so to is protecting the security of all Australians,” he said. “This is a very very important debate.

CETC has also been implicated in the mass monitoring of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but UTS denies its research contributed to their surveillance.

Under the 2017 deal, CETC funded several projects, including one focused on public security video analysis.

Four Corners has been told the university is abandoning that project and two others with CETC because of concerns raised by Australia's Defence Department.

The university's review of the CETC deal recommended a number of areas where UTS should improve its risk management practices and scrutiny, including "more detailed analysis and documentation of subsidiaries of organisations involved in collaborative research".

Chinese companies blacklisted by the US

Four Corners and Background Briefing have identified other research collaborations between Australian universities and Chinese companies that have been recently blacklisted by the US Government.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have worked with a senior figure at high-tech Chinese start-up Megvii on technology to track vehicles in videos.

The company is a leader in facial recognition technology and was this week added to the US trade blacklist after being implicated in human rights abuses.

Megvii told the ABC "we try to ensure that our technology is not used for damaging purposes".

A spokesperson from the University of Adelaide said while one of its professors was involved in the Megvii project, it was not a formal collaboration.

At the University of Sydney, scientists have collaborated with Chinese video surveillance giant SenseTime to help it track moving objects through multiple camera frames.

Bringing Australians home from Syria will only end in 'regrettable' outcomes: Home Affairs boss

  Bringing Australians home from Syria will only end in 'regrettable' outcomes: Home Affairs boss In a bleak and candid assessment of the possibility of removing Australian women and children trapped in Syria, the head of the Home Affairs department tells Senate Estimates it would have been better if they had never gone in the first place. © Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation Australian women stranded in the al-Hawl camp in Syria. (Four Corners) "All of the outcomes are unattractive, high-risk and regrettable and it would it would have been much better, of course, for certain adults not to have made certain decisions to travel," he said.

SenseTime was also blacklisted by the US Government last week over human rights concerns.

The university said the SenseTime partnership was subject to ongoing review.

UNSW Professor of Artificial Intelligence Toby Walsh said Australian universities were walking down a dangerous road and should consider carefully who they collaborate with.

"We've seen such rapid advances in the last few years, that we do now have to wake up and consider seriously the implications and how the technology that we work on can be misused," he said.

Australian universities have also collaborated with Chinese defence universities.

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) have worked on dozens of such studies, including a 2019 study on covert communications with the China's National University of Defense Technology, which was blacklisted by the US four years ago.

The study authors said it could have military applications, including "for a stealth fighter … to be able to hide itself from enemies while communicating with its military bases."

ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt told Four Corners he was not aware of the study but "if there are specific areas of research that are detrimental to the national interest, we need to look at them".

Deepening political rift between Australia and Beijing

In August, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced a universities taskforce into foreign interference, which he said was at unprecedented levels.

"We want to make sure it's very clear what the responsibilities of universities are when it comes to collaborating with any foreign government, because it's incredibly important … that collaboration is in Australia's interests," he told Four Corners.

Chinese academic Professor Chen Hong, who was provided to Four Corners by the Chinese embassy for interview, denied that China posed a threat.

"We've noticed actually the ASIO and other intelligence units in Australia making allegations direct or indirect, against China," he said.

"We think actually these allegations are unfounded and without substantial evidence."

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, a member of the Federal Government's taskforce, said universities already abided by rules on research collaborations.

"The Defence Trade Controls list is a very long list and it's reviewed every single year to keep it really up to date, and universities aren't just diligent, they're incredibly diligent about making sure that their research collaborations are absolutely inside the letter of the law," she said.

Professor Clive Hamilton, who has spent years researching Chinese Communist Party interference at universities, described the research situation as "astonishing".

"Australian universities have not been sleepwalking, they've been in a coma," he said.

"Perhaps three of four years ago university vice-chancellors could have said, 'Oh well, we didn't know'.

"That is no longer an excuse."

Watch Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop's report on Four Corners tonight at 8:30pm on ABC TV.

Push to stop criminals from working at airports and docks .
Job applicants at border entry points would be subject to background checks for gang-related offences or previous convictions under a planned law.Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told Today workers at border entry points needed tougher vetting, with 250,000 people currently able to access them by holding an EMSIC or ASIC identity card.

—   Share news in the SOC. Networks

Topical videos:

usr: 18
This is interesting!