The University of Cambridge has decided to terminate its partnership with the Beijing Institute of Aerospace Control Devices (BIACD), a Chinese state-owned military research institute. This decision follows an internal review conducted by Cambridge’s Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE), which had collaborated with BIACD on projects related to smart building systems and smart manufacturing. The partnership had been in place since 2013, and BIACD was listed as a partner on CAPE’s website alongside other companies such as Haleon and CRRC from Britain, and Huawei from China.
Documents obtained by UK-China Transparency (UKCT) under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws revealed that two of the three BIACD personnel listed on CAPE’s website had military research experience, with one of them holding a high-level position in China’s military. Despite this, Cambridge stated that the collaboration with BIACD was with its civilian arm and focused on projects with civilian applications. The UK government was involved in conducting due diligence checks prior to the establishment of the partnership.
Cambridge plans to end the partnership on September 30, 2023, and intends to return more than half of the £2 million funding received from BIACD since 2013. Documents obtained through FOI show that BIACD sponsored four research projects related to civilian applications, such as sensors, oscillators, and RFID technology.
BIACD, an alias for the 13th Institute of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), is involved in the development of military and civilian technologies. Its areas of expertise include rockets, space stations, weapon systems, and oil exploration. CASC is the sole producer of intercontinental ballistic missiles in China and supplies drones, rockets, and guided bombs to the Chinese military while exporting them to over 30 countries.
A due diligence report obtained by UKCT indicated that CAPE was aware of BIACD’s connection with CASC before entering into the partnership in 2013. The UK Trade and Industry office (UKTI) in the British Embassy in Beijing confirmed that BIACD had both military and civil interests. BIACD assured UKTI that their military and civil businesses were separate, with different technical and management teams. They stated that their discussion with Cambridge focused solely on civil projects.
Cambridge clarified that no BIACD staff members were based in CAPE and emphasized that their projects had undergone thorough export control compliance reviews before approval, ensuring that they did not involve military or dual-use technologies.
In addition to the partnership, the UKCT report highlighted a training program provided by a Cambridge-affiliated charity to Chinese military companies’ cadres. The program, called the China Executive Leadership Programme (CELP), included participants from military-related organizations such as CASC, CASIC, and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation.
Cambridge stated that the Cambridge China Development Trust (CCDT), the charity responsible for CELP, is independent of the university and that Cambridge has no role in its governance. The UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) has not released the names of CELP participants in response to an FOI request.