Paul van Gerven
13 June 2023

Education Minister confirms latest move to restrict China’s access to Dutch high-tech knowledge.

The Dutch government is working on legislation to prevent Chinese students and researchers from working on sensitive technology at Dutch universities, Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf states in the Financial Times. The bill doesn’t specifically target China: all students from outside the European Union will be subject to screening. However, insiders told Bloomberg that reservations about China’s regime are the reason for introducing stricter enrollment rules.

In the FT, Education Minister Dijkgraaf also voices concerns about grants from the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC). Recipients of these scholarships must swear allegiance to the Communist Party, report to local Chinese embassies and return to China for at least two years after obtaining their doctorate. “In general, the targeted use of grant programs to obtain high-quality knowledge and technology for the state is undesirable,” the minister said. “I’ve set up a study to see how many CSC researchers there are in the Netherlands and in which fields they’re active.” The results will be shared with the House of Representatives later this year.

lecture hall

Shifting attention

The student screening would be the latest in a string of moves to restrict Chinese access to Dutch technology. In 2019, the Dutch government ceased granting export licenses for EUV scanners. In consultation with the US and Japan, this measure will soon be extended to include the most advanced DUV immersion tools.

In addition, an act to screen investments, mergers and acquisitions recently came into effect. This grants the Dutch government the ability to block acquisitions based on national security considerations. Minister Adriaansens of Economic Affairs has already announced that she’ll scrutinize Nexperia’s takeover of Delft-based chip startup Nowi. The Nijmegen-based chipmaker is part of China’s Wingtech group.

BCe24 save the date

As the door to Dutch high-tech companies closes, China is bound to shift its attention to universities, Trade Minister Liesje Schreinemacher told the FT. “If you want a certain technology, you first try to buy it. If that doesn’t work, you try to invest. If that doesn’t work, you send people to the technology institutions to get the technology or the knowledge of that technology.”

State-sponsored

In its annual report, published in April, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) identified China as “the greatest threat” to the economic security of the Netherlands. “China makes use of both legitimate investments, corporate takeovers and academic cooperation, as well as illegitimate (digital) espionage, insider trading, covert investments and illegal exports. Dutch companies, knowledge institutions and scientists are regularly victims of this,” the report states. Many Dutch companies and knowledge institutions find it difficult to weigh the risks of cooperating with China, also because the country often conceals government or military involvement, the AIVD says.

Dutch universities had already become less eager to accept doctoral students with grants from the Chinese government, Trouw reported last month. Many have already started rejecting candidates in sensitive fields and/or because of ties to the Chinese military or Communist Party. Utrecht University stopped hiring Chinese state-sponsored candidates altogether. The institutions aren’t in favor of a total ban on Chinese (PhD) students, though.