Prevent technology leaks to China via transparent research funding

Policies on advanced technology research must be considered from a security perspective. The government needs to draw up clear rules to prevent technology leaks to China and other countries.

A panel of experts set up by the government has compiled a report stating that when researchers receive subsidies from the government, they must disclose information about their concurrent work with foreign research institutes and the receipt of funds from overseas.

The report also called for people’s subsidies to be canceled and for them to be barred from applying for subsidies for up to five years if they file false statements.

Based on the report, the government intends to compile a basic policy on the transparency of public research funding. It should consider various issues related to technological research from many angles, and implement highly effective measures.

For advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, joint research with other countries is increasing. However, it is difficult to clearly distinguish technologies for civilian and military use, and if foreign governments make use of research results in the military field, it could adversely affect Japan’s security.

The expert panel is thinking of China, which has set “military-civilian integration” as a national strategy. China is working to build up its military capabilities by using research results from universities and other institutions, and technologies for civilian use.

According to the report, several U.S. researchers involved in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan,” a program to recruit human resources, have leaked technology and information.

It has been confirmed that 44 Japanese participated in the Thousand Talents Plan. They include researchers who received scientific funding from the Japanese government during the same period.

In recent years, the U.S. government has been working to make research funds more transparent and strengthen export controls so that sensitive technology that can be used for military purposes is not leaked to China.

Japan has so far dealt with research misconduct, such as fabrication and plagiarism, but has lagged behind regarding the risk of technology being diverted to military purposes. If Japan fails to take countermeasures, it could hinder technological exchanges with the United States.

Universities and research institutes should keep a close eye on any unclear involvement by foreign governments.

In some cases, retired university professors and corporate engineers have been invited to China under favorable conditions. Many young researchers move overseas because of the shortage of available positions in Japan. There is an urgent need to establish a research environment that is not inferior to other countries.

The Japanese government’s science and technology budget is ¥4.4 trillion, far less than China’s ¥28 trillion and the United States’ ¥15 trillion. The government plans to set up a fund to support university research that will be worth about ¥10 trillion in the future. It is hoped that the fund will be effectively used to strengthen the foundations of universities.

For Japan to remain a nation built on science and technology, it is important to support researchers from a long-term perspective.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 25, 2021.