Canada names 85 Chinese research groups that ‘may pose’ threat to national security

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne gestures to a reporter as he responds to a question during a news conference, Tuesday, October 24, 2023 in Ottawa. © THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld

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The Canadian government is publicly naming 85 Chinese research institutions that “may pose” a threat to national security and sensitive research.

The list, published Tuesday afternoon, also includes 12 Iranian and six Russian organizations the Canadian government believes have ties to “military, national defence or state security entities.”

The listing is part of a push to secure Canadian research and development in sensitive industrial sectors — including advanced weaponry, aerospace and space technology, and quantum science and technology — from economic espionage and theft.

“While Canadian-led research is defined by its excellence and collaborative nature, its openness can make it a target for foreign influence, increasing the potential risks for research and development efforts to be misappropriated to the detriment of national security,” said François-Philippe Champagne, the federal industry minister, in a statement Tuesday.

Champagne’s office declined Global News’ interview request Tuesday, as the minister was travelling.

At a technical briefing Tuesday, federal officials said they don’t have a complete picture of how much Canadian research included people associated with the foreign institutions.

“In defining the list, there would be an understanding of risk factors and how they relate to Canadian institutions but also to international institutions,” one official, who was speaking on condition they not be named, told reporters.

Officials also could not say how much the new rules could cost Canadian research institutions, but noted there was also a cost to sensitive research being “exfiltrated” by foreign actors.

The listing — along with the designation of 11 “sensitive technology research areas” — has been in the works for months.

The areas include digital infrastructure technology, energy technology, advanced materials and manufacturing, sensing and surveillance tech, advanced weapons, artificial intelligence and big data, human-machine integration, quantum science and technology, and robotics and autonomous systems. Certain life sciences research, like biotech and health care technology, also made the list, as did aerospace, space and satellite research.

Champagne told a House of Commons committee last November that the government the listing would be “agnostic” in terms of targeting specific countries or companies. But the heavy representation of organizations from the People’s Republic of China on the list makes clear where Canadian intelligence agencies believe the largest threat is coming from.

The new policy applies to federal funding funnelled through granting agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Grant applications in the “sensitive technology” areas must be vetted to ensure that any of the researchers associated with the project are not connected with the listed organizations.

Any application that has researchers connected with those organizations — be it through direct funding or in-kind support — would be ineligible for federal funding.

At the time, Champagne said that the government was working with “security partners” to draft the list, but was aware that it was a “complex” issue and that the government wanted to avoid singling out particular countries or companies.

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“Threats can come from anywhere at any time. … What we’ve been working with our intelligence agencies (on) is to make sure we are as specific as we can be,” Champagne told the committee.

Many of the entities listed by the Canadian government are institutions with direct ties to the Chinese armed forces, such as the Rocket Force Command College, People’s Public Security University of China, or the National University of Defence Technology.

Russian entities include the 27th Scientific Centre of the Russian Ministry of Defence and 48th Central Scientific Research Institute. Iran’s Aerospace Research Institute Baghyatollah Medical Sciences University, along with other institutions associated with Tehran, were included in the listing.

For years, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment — Canada’s two main intelligence agencies — have warned that state-backed actors have long sought to steal Canadian research and development and conduct economic espionage.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Press — citing internal documents obtained through access to information law — reported that officials at Public Safety Canada were concerned attempts to secure Canadian research could create a chill within ethnic communities and in Canada’s bilateral relations.

“Strong concern about a chill within the research community (e.g. ethnic communities may be targeted). Well−considered messaging will be needed to mitigate this risk,” one of the documents read, according to CP.

In July 2021, the federal government issued national security guidelines for federal research granting councils. Under the new policy, funding applications in “sensitive research areas” would be denied if the project was connected with an organization with ties to foreign militaries, national defence of state security entities.

As of November, 36 applications had been denied out of a total of 1,743 total requests for funding, Champagne said.

The new policy is slated to come into effect this September. Federal officials said that both the list of sensitive sectors and the list of named research organizations will be reviewed and updated on a “regular basis.”

Source: The Canadian Press