Harbin Institute of Technology loses access to American technology and American talent19. June 2020
Harbin Institute of Technology loses access to American technology and American talent
Hong Kong, 19.6.2020
The US war against Chinese technology has entered a new phase as the country’s universities have been blacklisted by Washington. While Chinese technology giants such as Huawei Technologies, Hikvision and SenseTime have long had limited access to American technology, the extension of the so-called Entities List to include educational institutions means that the Chinese equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will now score a hit.
The 100-year-old Harbin Institute of Technology no longer has access to critical engineering software, a joint educational plan with the University of Arizona is pending, and academic exchange programs with the University of California, Berkeley, are no longer available. These are the findings of a report by Nikkei Asian Review.
The problem surfaced last week when a screenshot of emails between HIT and Massachusetts-based software developer MathWorks was distributed on social networks. In response to a complaint from a HIT user about failed access to software purchased by the university, MathWorks told the Chinese university that it could no longer deliver the product due to a change in U.S. policy.
The blocked software, called MATLAB, is used by HIT engineering students in their daily studies and laboratory work. Harbin Engineering University, also in the northern Chinese city, was also added to the list of Washington companies in May. The two universities are no longer allowed to import US equipment or software without Washington’s approval. Although China has tried in recent years to find non-US suppliers and adopt open source solutions, experts say that lack of access to American research and development tools will hamper their work.
Political tensions have also cast a shadow over academic exchanges, as a top US university has suspended exchanges with Chinese universities. “For organisations now on the Entities list, it will be more difficult for US academic institutions to consider cooperation,” said Paul Triolo, head of geotechnical research at New York-based risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “The US Department of Commerce said in a statement accompanying its latest list of entities published in May that the two Chinese universities and 22 other entities would be penalized for “engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
The interests involved were not said, but Beijing considers the move to be a new attack: “The move reflects the deep-rooted thinking of the United States during the Cold War,” Chinese State Department spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a briefing on Friday. Hua described the blocked access to American software as “political repression” against China and urged the US to lift the ban. The dispute is the latest skirmish in a battle between Washington and Beijing on fronts ranging from technology development to financial markets and the media.
According to the Department of Commerce, the US government blacklisted 11 Chinese companies in 2018 and 42 (excluding Huawei and its subsidiaries) last year. From January to May this year, 35 more were added.
Chinese universities play a key role in Beijing’s push for global technological leadership. Not only do they help train qualified scientists, engineers and programmers for local companies, but they also directly deliver advanced technologies. Although largely unknown abroad, HIT was the first Chinese university to build a chess computer and an arc welding robot. In 2015, it revealed the structure of proteins in HIV. The question is whether the Chinese upstart can stay at the top without access to American software and hardware. a researcher who previously worked for the Institute of Astronautics at HIT, Nikkei said that his laboratory depends heavily on American technology and that it will be almost impossible to find an alternative: “Most [simulation] software comes from the US, and no other countries provide such software,” the researcher said.
Like many from the university, the researcher asked for anonymity so that he could speak freely. HIT is the backbone of the Chinese space industry. The university has designed, built and launched its own satellites and is heavily involved in China’s major space missions. It is difficult to say how many laboratories at HIT have been disrupted in their work by the US export ban. One civil engineering student said that in his field alone, at least two important tools for computer-aided design and technical simulation are provided by American software companies, and that the loss of access to these tools “could isolate students from what is going on out there and slow down research and scientific development”, and that “the university’s ability to develop advanced medical equipment, a priority industry under the Beijing “Made in China 2025” strategy, is also at risk.