Scientific exchanges with Chinese characteristics

Limits and pitfalls of academic cooperation with the People’s Republic of China (policy brief).

International cooperation is an important part of academic work and contributes greatly to the advancement of scientific research. In the current global trend towards a re-bipolarized world, however, in which open societies are under threat from authoritarian regimes, academic contacts are becoming an instrument that some non-democratic states are using to undermine our open societies.

The risks and pitfalls of academic cooperation with non-democratic states must be considered. In the case of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), academic cooperation is based on a different concept of science itself. Whereas in our European concept, scientific institutions are independent of the state and their aim is the general advancement of scientific knowledge, which does not recognize state borders, in the PRC science is strictly subordinated to the pragmatic aims of the state, or rather the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This subordination of science to the interests of the state is institutionalized in the PRC. Research institutions and universities are subordinate to the Party through their leadership, the head of which in the PRC is the secretary of the local Party organization, not the rector, who has only limited powers (unless, of course, the two functions are combined in one person).

At the same time, it should be remembered that one of the objectives of the PRC, or the CCP as its ‘leading force’, is to seek a new order of international relations that suits the Chinese political establishment at the expense of the fundamental values of democratic societies. Science is one of the instruments to achieve this, and if we are careless in our scientific cooperation with the PRC, we risk assisting the Beijing leadership in achieving it and thus acting against our own interests. It is important to avoid the impression that the objectives and practices of the PRC do not concern the Czech Republic as a smaller country whose scientific institutions do not occupy the top positions in international rankings. Our science also has something to offer, and as the latest annual report of the Security Information Service indicates, the relevant Chinese authorities are active on Czech territory, including in the academic sphere.

Academics are often unaware of these risks when engaging with institutions from the PRC, treating them as analogous partners; they don’t consider research security as an essential parameter. This document summarizes the specifics of the Chinese academic environment in a broader context, describes the risks associated with scientific cooperation with the PRC and offers recommendations to Czech academic institutions on how to avoid these risks. It also provides a number of concrete examples from the Czech and international academic environments.

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