CHINA is allegedly involved in a massive “Trojan horse” operation aimed at acquiring military technology and know-how, experts have warned.
It is feared that “tens of thousands” of potential spies are working in universities and corporations, leaking secret technologies that could one day be used against the West.
Fears have been raised that China is dangling huge sums of money to get its hands on cutting-edge technology from the US and UK.
Beijing has funded research at “blindly naïve” universities, poached RAF fighter pilots to train their own and lured Chinese nationals home with high salaries after working on top-secret projects.
Research labs are said to be the new front in a global arms race as China seeks to overtake the US as the world’s dominant superpower.
President Xi Jinping has said he wants to have parity by 2027 and overtaken his rival by 2049, a century after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Now a new report claims at least 60 Chinese nationals have been working at British universities on projects that could be of military use.
The numbers are the “tip of the iceberg,” the study says, including at least two serving members of the People’s Liberation Army.
Its author Robert Clark says the legend of the Trojan Horse is the “perfect metaphor” to describe Chinese activities.
The 60 are from one of China’s giant defense groups or from PLA-affiliated universities classified as “high risk” or “very high risk,” including the “Seven Sons of National Defense.”
Companies sponsoring British research centers include China’s largest arms manufacturers, the Civitas study said.
These include manufacturers of fighter engines, nuclear missiles and warheads, stealth aircraft, drones, tanks, military metals and materials, and warships.
One example is the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which supports the AVIC Center for Structural Design at Imperial College London.
AVIC makes China’s J-20 stealth fighter – known as the Mighty Dragon – which is designed to take on fighter jets such as the RAF’s F-35 Lightning and the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.
The center also works with the First Aircraft Institute, which developed China’s new H-20 stealth bomber, a double of the American B-2 Spirit.
Clark says the universities are ignoring concerns he raised last year that they would inadvertently help arm China and are “still obviously blindly naive.”
“Many of these technologies in the research projects that we have uncovered are actively being sought by the PLA,” he said.
“All of this will allow China to eventually become the global military hegemon unless more systems are put in place to slow the occurrence of this eventuality.”
He said all of this added up to “serious implications for British national security”.
Earlier this year, it emerged that 50 PLA-affiliated Chinese students have left the UK over the past three years after the government tightened rules to prevent sensitive research from being stolen.
Clark, a former British Army soldier who fought in Afghanistan, said the Chinese nationals were “potential spies”.
“Some are active members of the PLA, so the risk of espionage is very high,” he said, especially since some of those 60 are from companies blacklisted by the US for working in America.
He called for tougher rules to ban the National University of Defense Technology, the Seven Sons of National Defense and all Chinese defense conglomerates from working in the UK.
As it turns out, China is offering salaries of £240,000 to ex-British fighter pilots to work as instructors.
Around 30 have already betrayed Britain by joining flight schools that train the PLA’s pilots.
Experts fear Beijing hired them hoping to learn secrets of Western aircraft and tactics that could give China an advantage in battle.
Meanwhile, 162 Chinese scientists working on top-secret research at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, returned to China to work on dubious missile programs.
Nicholas Eftimiades, a retired former US Department of Defense intelligence officer and senior research fellow at King’s College London, has long warned of China’s efforts to acquire military technology.
“China takes a whole-of-society approach to global espionage,” he said.
“It’s not the kind of espionage that Western intelligence agencies are adequately prepared to mitigate.”
He said the problem is that “democracies don’t often limit that kind of information or collaboration.”
China’s efforts to acquire foreign military technology include “collaborative research”, mergers and acquisitions, talent programs and theft.
The expert added, “In the United States alone, there are hundreds of cases where China has used front companies to buy export-restricted technologies.
“The same thing was observed recently in Britain, where ex-servicemen gave combat training to China.
“Tens of thousands of people work for China in Western companies and academic institutions.”
He said Western universities “clearly recognize that China is a brutal authoritarian state, and yet they continue to collaborate and research technologies with clear military applications.”
“It’s hard to tell if universities are naive or just money hungry,” he said.
Imperial insists the projects will be “basic scientific research” and “all partnerships and collaborations will be subject to thorough scrutiny and regular review”.
The university says it is working closely with the government “in line with our UK national security commitments”, adding that the AVIC center will close soon.
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