China talent programs may be accessing Australian technology, linked to grant fraud

More than 300 scientists and scholars are believed to have been recruited by talent recruitment schemes controlled by the Chinese Communist Party over the past decade, further raising concern Australian academics are giving Beijing access to their technologies and inventions.

One professor who was working on drone research in Australia trained a People’s Liberation Army scientist who went on to become the chief technician for a Chinese military drone program.

The extent of CCP talent-recruitment activity in Australian universities and other research institutions may have resulted in $280 million in grant fraud over the past two decades, according to evidence given to a parliamentary inquiry.

The new research has identified 325 participants in CCP talent-recruitment programs from Australian research institutions, with many having conflicting commitments such as maintaining jobs in China while also being employed full-time in Australia.

Federal Parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee is holding an inquiry into foreign interference at Australian universities, including the role of the Chinese government’s talent recruitment programs.

The Australian government has been increasingly concerned that talent-recruitment initiatives such as Beijing’s Thousand Talents Plan may facilitate espionage and theft of intellectual property. The programs give researchers funding and the opportunity to commercialise their work in return for Beijing getting access to their research.

In a submission to the inquiry, CCP-influence expert Alex Joske identified 59 cases of academics and researchers receiving highly competitive fellowships from the Australian Research Council while apparently working at the same time in China.

All funding agreements require recipients to disclose conflicts of interest and holding an appointment under a Chinese government talent recruitment program could breach grant funding guidelines.

“CCP talent recruitment activity in Australia may be associated with as much as AU$280 million in grant fraud over the past two decades,” Mr Joske’s submission states.

“Australian research grants come with clear requirements to disclose conflicts of interest. In some cases, they prohibit recipients from taking up external employment or other fellowships and require them to predominantly reside in Australia.

“Such behaviour would also breach university policies on conflicts of interest, external employment, intellectual property and research commercialisation.”

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