UniversityDifferentiated and Academically Appropriate Discussion on Research Cooperation

13 June 2023

Statement on cooperation with the People’s Republic of China and quantum researcher Prof. Dr Jian-Wei Pan

Heidelberg University welcomes a differentiated and academically appropriate discussion about research cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. This discussion is continually conducted at the university, in particular relating to institutionalised academic cooperation agreements. In this respect, Heidelberg University is against drawing “red lines” for scientific cooperation by non-academic actors and favours critical debate in the context of university bodies and exchange in the academic community. Appropriate decisions about research connections and their possible risks must be taken on this basis and the fundamental principle of academic freedom enshrined in German Basic Law must thereby be protected. In the view of Heidelberg University, exercising responsibility in the scholarly process makes it imperative to continually review institutional and individual connections; this currently includes the contacts and cooperation with Chinese universities and institutes.

Heidelberg University is an international research university with strong emphases in basic research, which is not primarily directed towards developing and applying new technologies. However, dual-use issues are also an important topic for Heidelberg University when it comes to the responsibility of science for its research results. Hence a Commission on Responsibility in Science was established back in 2017 to support the university scientists with advice and in assessing the risks and ethical aspects of their research. In addition to the university bodies concerned with ethical and responsible science, a Staff Unit for Export Control was set up early in 2022, which inter alia reviews international agreements and cooperation arrangements as the occasion arises and, if necessary, can also call for clarification from the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA).

Since research financed on a competitive basis usually seeks outstanding scientific partners of fitting quality, there is a worldwide network in which, by the nature of things, many Chinese researchers are also active. The funding of scientific and research partnerships is, above all, guided by excellence and scientific quality. Yet the cooperation partners are obliged to preserve their own scholarly values and principles. These include, for instance, open science and transparency with respect to research integrity, or the balancing of national and international interests regarding security aspects. Heidelberg University regards the close interdependence of civilian and military research (“military-civil fusion”) in China with concern and great attention, because it entails repercussions on established cooperation agreements.

Cooperation with Prof. Dr Jian-Wei Pan

Quantum research at Heidelberg University was, and is, basic research – and this includes the research projects that Prof. Dr Jian-Wei Pan conducted in Heidelberg. It is inadmissibly construing the case to see a direct connection with a military application. The potential of quantum information technology was identified and articulated in a large number of countries worldwide as early as 20 years ago. In fact, quantum communication is, technologically speaking, the most advanced quantum technology to date in comparison with a host of other thematic fields such as quantum computers, quantum sensors, quantum simulators or quantum networks. But this means neither that this potential will also de facto become reality, nor that scientists who correctly estimate this potential actually work on and develop its practical implementation.

The results of Prof. Pan’s basic research − carried out with German and European funding − were published in international journals, his laboratories were accessible at every moment and the usual exchange took place with other scientists at Heidelberg University and worldwide. The related third-party funding (in this case through public grants) complied with the principle of scientific excellence, according to the assessment of independent experts.

Heidelberg University underlines that it holds firmly to its worldwide cooperation agreements in the field of basic research. That includes a critical accompaniment of the scientists involved.