Japanese universities have been asked to provide details of foreign nationals working in sensitive areas of science and technology as part of a stricter screening of students and researchers promised by the new Minister of Economic Security.
The in-depth review, according to those involved, is one of many measures Tokyo has introduced in response to growing technological nationalism among foreign competitors and increased concerns that Japanese research is flowing too easily to China and elsewhere.
The move to collect better information on research institutes comes as the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October, pledged to tighten control over foreign investments under the foreign exchange and foreign trade – rules that have already been strengthened by a 2020 law revision law.
The information-gathering exercise, led by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, foreshadows new directions for universities and research institutes. The new rules will require them to provide higher levels of disclosure and tighter control over potential research exits in order to continue to receive funding.
A government report released this year showed that only 48% of private Japanese universities had regulations that included screening for potential students. Only a third of private universities said they had warned students against returning to their home countries with sensitive technology.
The latest survey was described to the Financial Times by staff at three Japanese universities as demanding far more detail than the government’s usual annual survey of the number of foreign students. Additional details focused on specific areas of science and technology in which foreign students and researchers were involved.
A senior staff member at a private university said government researchers’ approach was known in early December and the focus of the investigation was clearly on safety, with an apparent focus on closing roads that allow sensitive information to leave Japan.
Japan’s acceleration of efforts, which echoes similar steps taken by other governments elsewhere and reflects fears the system has been lax for too long, follows the October appointment of Takayuki Kobayashi as prime minister of Japan’s economic security.
In an interview shortly after the role was created, Kobayashi told the FT that his mission is to develop life-saving technologies so that the international community “cannot survive without Japan.”
Last Friday, Kobayashi announced stricter guidelines for public funding of research institutes, which would require them to provide the government with more details about the money they received from Japanese or foreign companies.
Faced with growing concern about the risks associated with internationalization and the opening up of research, the government was considering “stricter screening of foreign students and researchers,” he said. Institutions submitting false reports would be barred from applying for government funding for five years.
A university professor who works in the field of advanced batteries said that while he was not directly approached as part of the government’s investigation, potential data leaks have long been a problem, in especially for those who work with Chinese researchers. Some Chinese postdoctoral students, he said, had told him they were forced to provide data when Beijing asked them to do so, or face sanctions.
The same professor, who is also involved in a joint national research project with Chinese institutions, said that given concerns about data leaks, the Japanese side had carefully discussed the advances it should share with its counterparts. Chinese. “It is as if we are working on the project on the assumption that information is disclosed,” he added.