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University severs ties with CETC over alleged human rights abuse

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The University of Manchester is ending a joint research project with state-owned China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), after MPs raised alleged involvement with human rights abuses.

CETC was founded in 2002 with the aim of leveraging consumer technology for military purposes. It spans sectors ranging from artificial intelligence to drones. The US government has imposed restrictions on the company and its subsidiaries.

Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, has accused CETC of providing technology used to target the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang province.

The allegation comes amid recent disturbing allegations of human rights abuses in the province regarding the forced sterilisation and systemic rape of women in Xinjiang internment camps. A US report published last month said that new evidence unearthed in the past year suggests that the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang constitutes “crimes against humanity” and potentially genocide.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied accusations of abuse at these camps, which it describes as “vocational education and training centres”.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is investigating the degree of British involvement with organisations involved with the alleged human rights abuses in the region. Tugendhat, who has a reputation as hawkish on China, wrote to the University of Manchester requesting details about its research partnership with CETC. The University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has been working with the company to create an International Joint Research Laboratory for Radio Astronomy Advanced Instrumentation Research.

The university has taken steps to terminate the joint project and is reviewing the collaboration. According to Professor Martin Schroder, dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, the university had no knowledge of credible reports linking CETC with the persecution of Uighur Muslims prior to receiving Tugendhat’s letter.

“It remains imperative that British institutions, education and otherwise, are fully informed of who it is they are working and sharing research with,” said Tugendhat. “A lack of curiosity could inadvertently lead to some of our most well-respected businesses and universities entering into a relationship which – inadvertently or otherwise – sees them complicit in the systematic abuse of the human rights of the Uighurs and other minority groups.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson added: “The university is reviewing its collaboration with [CETC] following the rejection of a licence application by the government’s Export Control Joint Unit in relation to a specific project with the company.

“This took place in January and predates any correspondence with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Since then, we have taken steps to terminate the current agreement with [CETC] whilst assessing the relationship.

“We have also recently undertaken a further programme of work addressing the potentially complex risks and issues that arise when developing international research partnerships. Its remit includes wider ethical and security issues. One of the aims is to provide a strengthened degree of assurance about potential new research partners with the university’s guiding principles, values, missions, and goals.”

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