The Netherlands can learn something from other countries in the battle for knowledge security, according to a study by the Leiden Asia Center that accompanies a report by the AWTI’s advisory board.
“Until recently, you could raise tons of research money if you wanted to collaborate with China, and there were almost no strings attached,” said AWTI President Eppo Bruins on current affairs program Nieuwsuur. “We were naive.”
There is now more interest in espionage, knowledge theft, and covert influence. Earlier this week, the intelligence community did indeed sound the alarm. The Netherlands will be a target for China, Russia and Iran in particular.
But what can the Netherlands do? The Advisory Board on Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) wanted to know how other countries were dealing with the problem and asked the Leiden Asia Center for an international comparison.
Nine countries have examined the center. Among European countries, these are France, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom. Researchers are also looking at the United States, Australia, Japan and Taiwan.
Most countries are now convinced of the importance of knowledge security. Researchers say there is less agreement in the Czech Republic, so politics is less coherent.
National politics sometimes plays a dubious role in choices. Hence, this policy aims not only to address the real risks, but also to advance the political agenda of some political parties. These are the first lessons the researchers draw: consistency is good, political opportunism is not desirable.
Not all countries use the term “knowledge security”. Sometimes they talk about foreign interference, sometimes about scientific integrity (conceived on a larger scale than here) and in other places, for example, about academic freedom and the protection of science.
But in general, politics is always about four things: raising awareness, exposing risks, avoiding risks, and at the same time reaping the benefits of international cooperation.
Some countries are further away than others. Japan, Taiwan and Australia are close to China and this plays a role in their politics. In Taiwan, for example, knowledge security is so vital to the survival of a country that China considers a renegade province.
In Finland, the main focus is on an awareness-raising campaign, while France mainly focuses its policy on risk and pays less attention to awareness. The center also draws a lesson from this: finding balance.
How far does such a policy work in practice? According to the study, the procedures have not yet been evaluated anywhere. In most cases, it’s still too early for that. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about effectiveness.
In general, the researchers dare to make a recommendation: ensure consistency and maintain the process. Regulations must be clear and precise; Furthermore, government and research funders must ensure easy access to aid. Mutual competition between universities when recruiting foreign students does not seem like a good idea.
AWTI uses this study to advocate for awareness, but also for nuance. International cooperation is very important to the Netherlands, the advice says, although there are indeed risks. The Council warns of “extreme situations”.
“The Dutch knowledge institutions are among the best in the world,” says AWTI board member and project leader Shukri Mousavi in a press release. “Researchers and students work fully with their international counterparts, and we definitely have to keep it that way. It’s about finding a balance between being naive and going too far in safety.”
The Knowledge Security Bureau recently established by the government has been praised. In addition, the AWTI calls for, among other things, the strengthening of knowledge security teams in universities and scientific research in knowledge security.
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