The University of Technology Sydney is deeply concerned by allegations in the Human Rights Watch’s report on human rights violations in Xinjiang province.
The report mentions involvement of one of the subsidiaries of the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) in providing a mobile app to police for surveillance purposes.
CETC is a broad technology organisation with some 140,000 employees and numerous subsidiaries, which undertakes research with partners, including universities, in more than 100 countries in areas such as solar power technology, radio astronomy, and consumer products.
China has many of the world’s most eminent researchers in the fields of technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and big data, who collaborate with leading universities across the globe, including in the US, UK and Australia.
UTS researchers openly engage in many international partnerships, balancing academic collaboration in research with a rigorous framework for evaluating formal funding partnerships.
Upon learning of the HRW report in April this year, UTS commenced an internal review of its current CETC partnership. The scope of that review, which is not yet complete, includes:
- Revisiting risk assessments previously conducted in relation to the overall partnership, as well as for each of its projects.
- Reviewing the contract terms between the two organisations.
- Applying the university’s research partnership risk framework in the current geopolitical and research collaboration climate and in the context of the HRW report.
- Assessing the nature of the work performed to date, including any research published openly in international peer-reviewed journals.
- Contacting CETC in relation to the matter.
- While the review is ongoing, UTS’s preliminary assessments indicate:
- All projects have been submitted for approval to the Department of Defence where required under the Australian Defence Trade Controls Act 2012.
- All projects are foundational research activities and are intended for open publication and scholarship. A number of research papers have been published in high quality international journals.
- The value of the current research partnership with CETC is approximately AU$10 million over five years. Initial engagement with CETC was explored in 2015 with the major research initiative signed in 2017.
- Four of our five projects with CETC are unrelated to areas of concern raised in the HRW report. For example, one project relates to developing algorithms for an indoor robot, for use in offices and warehouses. UTS has previously developed robots for Roads and Maritime Services NSW to undertake maintenance on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, reducing risks to humans.
- A fifth project, relating to public security video data analysis, is early stage research, and commenced in March 2018, subsequent to the app mentioned in the HRW report.
CETC has confirmed they have not used research outputs from the partnership with UTS in any products or applications to date. Nonetheless, UTS will consider possible future applications as part of its review. UTS at this stage has no plans for new work with CETC and will assess the current contractual agreements in light of the review.
Additional background information on international research partnerships
The sharing of knowledge and expertise globally brings significant value to Australia, through the creation of jobs and research breakthroughs that can be adopted to improve our day to day lives in a variety of ways, including by increasing the international competitiveness of our industries. UTS engages in international partnership for the benefit of Australia and is encouraged to do so by our State and Federal Governments.
International partnerships including the CETC one have been supported by the Federal Government, with whom UTS maintains an active dialogue.International research collaboration is also a core pillar university activity, and is fundamental to academic freedom, where academics broadly determine the nature and direction of their research identifying the most relevant partners guided by their university’s mission. They then frequently publish the outcomes of their collaboration openly through peer-reviewed journals.
Like many leading universities, UTS has extensive international research collaborations with universities, companies and research institutions. Since the beginning of 2017, UTS has had 273 research partnerships with industry and government partners in dozens of countries worldwide.
Government support for Australian international research collaboration is provided through a number of programs, many of these managed and funded by the Australian Research Council.
The relevant chapter of the 2010 House of Representatives Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation Inquiry into International Research Collaboration lists a few of the many benefits to Australia of international research collaboration. Others include ‘enabling Australia to address global challenges such as climate change, food security, water scarcity and pandemics’; access to specialised research facilities and laboratories not available in Australia; funding from multiple national funding sources not reliant on the Australian taxpayer; and because:
Put simply, for a small market – 0.3 per cent of the world’s population – with a small research base – 3 per cent of the world’s research – accessing the research base beyond our borders is critical for our innovation capacity.