Germany education minister warns of spying ‘risk’ with some Chinese students

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Germany’s education minister on Saturday called for a revision of student exchange practices with China, citing an increased risk of scientific espionage posed by Chinese students who come to study in Germany on full state scholarships.

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“China is becoming more and more competitive and is a systemic rival in the domain of science and research,” Bettina Stark-Watzinger said in an interview published on Saturday by the Mediengruppe Bayern.

The minister hailed a decision by the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) in Bavaria, which regularly partners with German industry in research projects, to no longer accept China students whose sole financing comes from the China Scholarship Council (CSC), which is a state institution.

According to recent reports published in Deutsche Welle and the Correctiv investigative platform, recipients of these scholarships must sign a loyalty oath to the Chinese state or risk legal proceedings.

Stark-Watzinger hailed the German university for its decision, saying it was motivated by “the realization that the freedom of opinion and scientific freedom anchored in German Basic Law cannot be fully exercised by the CSC scholarship recipients due to the conditions of their scholarships and there also exists an increased risk of scientific espionage.”

“The FAU decision should prompt other institutions to revisit the terms of their cooperation with the CSC,” she said.

In mid-July, Germany toughened its approach to China, publishing a 64-page strategy in response to a “more assertive” China, sparking ire from Beijing.

The document, covering security policy as well as economic and scientific cooperation, was the product of months of wrangling within the German government over its strategy toward China.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Thursday that Berlin had “reacted to a China that has changed and become more assertive,” and that his government wanted to reduce economic reliance on Beijing in critical areas.

Beijing said the new approach would increase “man-made risks” and “exacerbate divisions” in the world.

Berlin’s harder line has sparked fears in German industry, which has grown increasingly dependent on China.

Corporate giants such as Volkswagen and Siemens have in recent months outlined growth strategies that rely heavily on the Chinese market.

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