The British weapons expert cosying up to China - by David Rose for UnHerd - 26.05.22

Is the CCP using an Imperial College researcher?


His audience hung on his every word. Here was one of Britain’s foremost weapons experts chairing a prestigious, two-day conference devoted to exploring new ways of making arms more deadly. But the packed conference hall, its walls lined with oak and marble, wasn’t in Britain. It was in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province in eastern China.


Clive Woodley, 67, currently attached to the Department of Shock Physics at Imperial College in London, has worked on high-tech weaponry since his youth. So he had much to say about the conference theme: “New Material Technology for Ammunition.” The event “marked a new chapter in the development of artillery, shells and missiles”, according to an official report issued afterwards.


Most of Woodley’s research has been funded by the Ministry of Defence. A former president of the International Ballistics Society, he served as Chief Scientist at the MoD-controlled company QinetiQ from its inception in 2001 — when the MoD privatised its own labs — to 2018. He has advised the MoD about many of its key lethal systems.


Woodley’s contributions in Jinan followed a grand opening ceremony conducted by Qi Xiaoliang, the Communist Party Secretary of the Shandong Institute, one of China’s top military research centres. Joining him, the conference literature makes clear, was almost every leading figure in the Chinese weapons industry, including key figures from Norinco, a Chinese state-owned giant that makes tanks, fighter jets, drones, missiles, big guns, and bombs.


Another sponsor was the China Ordnance Society, which brings together 22,000 researchers from both China’s universities and its arms firms, all devoted to “fostering the development needs of national defence”.


Most extraordinary of all was the timing. In 2012, and for some years afterwards, Britain and China basked in a “golden age” of warm relations initiated under David Cameron. China was not then so widely known for the genocide of its Uighur Muslim minority, nor had it crushed Hong Kong’s freedoms. It was not until 2020 that the UK government decreed that equipment made by the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei must be ripped out from Britain’s 5G networks on grounds of national security.


However, the conference in Jinan took place very recently, on 14 and 15 October 2021. It was supposedly “international”, but in fact, the only non-Chinese delegates were Woodley, a Russian and a Pole. A few weeks later, MI6 chief Richard Moore gave a landmark speech, saying the threat from China was now his agency’s “single greatest priority”, and warning that we must beware of “large-scale espionage operations against us, targeting those in research of particular interest to the Chinese state” — in other words, experts such as Woodley.


Yet the Jinan event was no one-off. Working with an expert who is fluent in Mandarin, I have established that over the past eight years, Woodley has participated at least seven times in seminars and lectures for senior figures from China’s defence industry and university departments that work with its military. He is also a co-editor of two Chinese journals funded by weapons firms. Since 2014, he has had eight papers either published in Chinese journals or co-written with Chinese scientists working with Chinese arms makers — the most recent, in 2021.


And Covid rules permitting, Woodley will soon be jetting off yet again to Beijing. There, over four days in July, he will co-chair the International Conference on Defence Technology, presiding over sessions covering the latest discoveries in sensitive military technologies. Helpfully, Woodley lists their subject areas in his “welcome letter” on the conference website. They include hypersonic weapons (as deployed by the Russians with lethal effect in Ukraine), “explosions and impacts”, new types of armour, quantum computing and “wound ballistics”.


Just as in October, most of those in attendance will be from China’s weapons industry:

Woodley’s co-chairs will be two of China’s most eminent defence scientists, Feng Changgen of the Beijing Institute of Technology and Li Baoming of Nanjing University and the Ordnance Science and Research Academy of China. Both are high-ranking members of the Communist Party, and their careers have been dedicated to China’s military.


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