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[Speaking Out] It's Not Just AIST: Enact Anti-espionage Law to Prevent Technology Leaks

An anti-espionage law is crucial to halt cases like AIST where Japanese universities invest taxpayer funds in research that in the end benefits China.



The Faculty of Science of Tohoku University is where nearly half of the reaserchers at an advanced wave engineering lab are from China. (Courtesy of Tohoku University Via Wikimedia Commons)

A Chinese researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), one of Japan's largest national research and development agencies, was arrested by the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department. He was charged with violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Act by disclosing trade secrets. 

The researcher named Quan Hengdao had been working at the AIST since April 2002 and engaged in research on fluoride compounds. He graduated from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. That institution is one of the seven national defense schools associated with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). He also served for a period of time as a teacher at the Beijing Institute of Technology. It, too, is one of the seven. 

Quan also served as chairman of Shaanxi Shenguang Chemical Industry Co. That is a Chinese fluorine chemical manufacturing company. 

In China, research data on Japan's advanced technologies flow from the seven national defense schools. Data is directed to Chinese companies through the State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense. This institution oversees the schools. 

Over two decades, the AIST failed to find that Quan was making money at the Chinese company. 

Suspect Quan Hengdao was taken to the Kanda Police Station, Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo on June 15. (© Kyodo)

Chinese Infiltrating Japanese Research Institutions 

Beijing Institute of Technology, where Quan once served as a teacher, is on the  "End User List " of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). It is designated as a foreign entity for which concern cannot be eliminated regarding involvement in military research covering weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons and missiles. 

Among fluoride compounds, chlorofluorocarbons are used not only for air conditioners, for which Chinese companies hold a large share of the global market. But they are also used for producing advanced semiconductors. Especially dangerous is high-purity uranium hexafluoride. This is used for centrifuges for uranium enrichment and is also indispensable for producing nuclear weapons

During my tenure at Hokkaido University, I chaired a committee on internationally controlled substances. I gave lectures to all faculty members on products subject to export restrictions. These covered what they should keep in mind when distributing students and researchers at graduate school laboratories and traveling overseas. And I collected their signatures confirming their understanding of the lectures. 

At the Tokyo Institute of Technology, all faculty members are obliged to take online courses to prevent research misconduct. 

As indicated by the AIST incident, however, many Chinese researchers belong to universities and national laboratories. This makes it difficult to effectively find and prevent their misconduct. 


Red Flags at Some Japanese Laboratories

One example of a laboratory for advanced technology being dominated by Chinese researchers is found at Tohoku University. There is a wave engineering laboratory studying how to use electromagnetic wave phenomena. This laboratory has made world-class achievements in the development of antennas and other devices. And it has led to the practical application of those devices. 

According to a document prepared early in 2023, Chinese account for 16 persons, or 42% of the 38 members of the laboratory. In particular, 10 out of the 12 Chinese doctoral students are graduates from Beijing Institute of Technology and other Chinese "national key universities." These institutions are qualified by the Chinese government. 

There are many cases like this where Japanese national universities invest government money for what turns out to be China's development. 

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, where Quan-Hengdao also worked as a senior senior researcher, in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture (© Sankei Shimbun)

Japan, A Heaven for Spies 

Japan is disgracefully called a heaven for spies. When the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers submitted a bill to the House of Representatives for preventing espionage related to state secrets in 1985, the bill failed to pass due to fierce resistance from opposition parties. 

The Science Council of Japan, which opposes Japan's military research, has never issued a warning about the outflow of Japanese technologies to China. Nor has it said anything about their potential diversion to military purposes. 

Many key members of the academic council participate in research exchange meetings. And the seven Chinese national defense schools take part in many of these. 

For what country does the Science Council of Japan exist? If Japan's advanced technologies leak out to China, the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people cannot be protected. 

Japan is still required to enact an anti-espionage law. 


(A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Find it in Speaking Out #1049 in Japanese on June 19 and in English on June 21, 2023.)

Author: Tadashi Narabayashi
Tadashi Narabayashi is a specially appointed professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and a director at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.


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