IS THE University of Canterbury Helping China Develop Nuclear Weapons??

The sensationalist headline at the top of everyone’s feeds on Monday was a Stuff article, titled “University of Canterbury collaborating with Institute linked to Chinese military”. I personally was shocked. The human rights abuses of the Chinese government have been known about for decades and our university still decides to help them develop weapons? But is this article really what it seems or is it part of a larger, worrying trend towards clickbait in New Zealand media? And is the university using our fees to help create weapons for a hostile foreign power?

There is no denying that working with a Chinese university to develop weapons for the Chinese government works actively against the foreign and domestic interests of our country. China is a brutal totalitarian regime that has no tolerance for dissent both inside and outside of its borders. A prime example of this is UC’s own Professor Anne-Marie Brady, a vocal critic of the Chinese government. For her efforts in critiquing the regime she earned a series of break-ins, both into her home and office. This blatant disregard for international law is common practice for China with offenses ranging from using an embassy to spy to threatening foreign nationals for speaking out against internal policy. It is not just abroad either. China has been persecuting the Uighur Muslims in the western part of the country for years, locking them in “re-education” (Read “Concentration”) camps and forcing them to give up the way of life they have lived for hundreds of years.

In no way is this piece intended to give the university a free pass. It appears they did not do their due diligence and check the ties of the Harbin Institute of Technology before entering into collaboration with them. This is a massive oversight and something that the university should look into but in this case it is not as detrimental as it first appears. UC and Harbin signed an agreement to “collaborate on teaching and research” in 2018 in the fields of renewable energy generation, marine science and international trade and finance. The links that these fields have to the defence industry are in passing at best, and they are all areas of research important to our country. Given that Harbin is the number six best engineering university in the world and China is one of the most technologically advanced nations it is easy to see how we get more out of this partnership than they do.

While the title of the stuff article is technically true, it blatantly mis-represents the facts of the situation. Yes, UC is working with a University with a large focus on defence research for the Chinese Government. No, the did no know this when entering into their agreement due to a number of internal factors. The most important thing, which the stuff article fails to mention until the 11th paragraph is the scope of the research being conducted, which has little practical military application and is more beneficial to our small university than it is to them. This is backed up by the significant difference in size between the two institutions. Harbin has approximately 30,000 students while UC has approximately 13,000 and we are ranked below them in many university rankings.

I hate the Chinese government as much as any sensible, freedom loving westerner and collaboration with such a power is morally reprehensible in my eyes but in this case, UC has not done anything wrong. They are not helping develop weapons for a foreign power and are aiding your education by working with a highly ranked institution. The stuff article headline was misleading and designed to encourage sharing but did not tell the full story. This is one of many recent cases of the New Zealand media showing their blatant disregard for the facts and highlights how important it is to read not just a headline, but the article itself. So next time you see a headline that seems a little too out there, do the due diligence and check out the content before commenting

By Eric Griffiths

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