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UofG hosts research funded by US-sanctioned Chinese missile centre

University declines to comment on senior professor who collaborates with the centre

The Glasgow Guardian has found previously unreported tight connections between a senior UofG professor and a Chinese military research centre. This follows a Civitas thinktank report which named the University among many of the UK’s top academic institutions which accepted millions of pounds in research funding from Chinese entities over the past five years. This includes funds from organisations associated with the People’s Liberation Army or sources sanctioned by the United States.

The report estimates that between 16 to 20% of all Chinese funding for UK universities came from organisations sanctioned by the United States Department of Commerce, or controlled by the Chinese military. That figure rises to a third of all funding when including institutions with “demonstrable links” with the Chinese military.

The thinktank obtained these figures through a series of Freedom of Information requests from various universities.

Among other significant figures the report identifies a single 2019 £10k grant from the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Centre (CARDC) to the University of Glasgow as particularly “extreme”.

Western military analysts are uniquely apprehensive about the CARDC’s research, as it focuses on hypersonic devices, which include rockets and missiles that can travel over five times the speed of sound. The organisation is described as China’s largest hypersonic missile technology testing institute. The Washington Post has previously identified the CARDC as a “secretive military facility,” which runs hypersonic heat and drag simulations on “missiles that could one day be aimed at a U.S. aircraft carrier or Taiwan.” The organisation has also previously shared material about “AI-trained dogfight drones” whose software operates over 5,000 times faster than its NATO counterpart, according to the South China Morning Post. The CARDC is run by a People’s Liberation Army major general, though his military position is concealed on the institute’s website.

A senior UofG academic, Konstantinos Kontis, who is a Professor of Aerodynamics and the University’s dean of external engagement for China and Asia, has worked with the CARDC since at least 2018, having co-authored research with CARDC researchers. In 2019, he was a part of an international advisory committee for a conference on gas dynamics held in-person at the Centre in Mianyang, Sichuan province in China. He’s also served on the editorial board of Advances in Aerodynamics, the CARDC’s academic journal, since at least 2020.

Kontis was also a PhD supervisor for a UofG student funded by the CARDC, specifically its High Speed Institute. The student’s PhD thesis, submitted at UofG in February 2020, concerns the development of materials that can withstand the “initial shock wave” of a starting jet on hypersonic vehicles. The student thanks the CARDC for funding his research in his opening acknowledgements section.

Prof Kontis did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Glasgow Guardian.

The Civitas report also highlights some of the “pre-education” requirements that are placed on Chinese students studying in the UK on funded by China Scholarship Council (CSC) scholarships, calling it “ideological training,” according to the Telegraph. CSC scholarships are partially funded by the UK taxpayer.

The CARDC has been sanctioned by the United States since 1999, due to its military research. US firms are banned from trading with organisations placed on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, such as the CARDC. US universities are expressly prohibited from trading or undergoing any “rocket systems” research with the organisation—for example, the University of Georgia lists it among institutions that are “reasonably believed to be involved, or to pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.” In 2021, the US sanctioned several other organisations for exporting American technology to the CARDC.

Hypersonic missiles are considered to be the next frontier in international arms races. The US has previously been caught by surprise by a Chinese hypersonic missile test launch in August 2021, with Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling it “very concerning,” as well as China’s ‘Sputnik moment.’ In August 2022, Russia arrested the head of its hypersonic missile lab for treason, after he was found leaking sensitive information to China.

The University has been contacted for comment on this story, including on questions on Kontis’ work with CARDC and whether the University received any funding from Huawei after the UK government deemed the company untrustworthy for 5G communications equipment in July 2020.

The University has also previously declined to comment on the Civitas report to the Scotsman, and did not respond to a request for comment from the Times. 

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