In April, MI5 and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith warned that hostile regimes are exploiting sensitive research for authoritarian, military, and economic purposes, with Smith comparing universities involved in such agreements to ‘lambs to the slaughter.’ (Source: Image by RR)

Emails Reveal Chinese Firm’s Plans to Leverage UK AI Research for Military Use

A Chinese state-owned firm, Jiangsu Automation Research Institute (Jari), attempted to leverage its collaboration with Imperial College London to gain access to AI technology for “smart military bases,” according to a report by The Guardian. In email exchanges, Jari, known for designing drone battleships, revealed its intention to use university scientists’ military software before negotiating a £3 million agreement with the institution in 2019. The UK government, as reported in, has since raised security warnings about academic ties with China, and MI5 warned vice-chancellors about the misuse of sensitive research by authoritarian regimes for military purposes.

The Imperial Data Science Institute’s Future Digital Ocean Innovation Center, led by Professor Yike Guo, aimed to enhance marine forecasting and intelligent manufacturing for civilian purposes. However, emails obtained by the NGO UK-China Transparency through Freedom of Information requests revealed Jari’s military interest in the technology. Jari’s research director outlined plans to test Imperial’s software for applications in “smart institutes, smart military bases, and smart oceans.” This collaboration, which began in September 2019, ended in 2021 after government intervention led to Imperial College returning £500,000.

China’s heavy investment in AI for military purposes is part of a broader strategy to gain a competitive edge in future warfare. According to the Center for European Policy Analysis, Chinese strategists have long emphasized information dominance in combat, inspired by the US’s knowledge superiority demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf War. Beijing’s approach involves system destruction warfare and multi-domain precision warfare, which use AI and big data to disrupt adversary communications and exploit weaknesses. Additionally, China employs AI to create deepfakes and influence public opinion on social media.

Despite challenges in AI development, such as reliance on foreign chips and US export restrictions, China is collaborating with Russia on military AI projects. In February, discussions between Chinese and Russian officials in Beijing focused on AI’s military implications, including technology assessments and bilateral projects. Both nations share similar views on the necessity of robust international cooperation in AI military applications. The collaboration reflects a significant milestone in China’s geopolitical confrontation with Washington, as these technologies become increasingly crucial in future conflicts.