Netherlands Targeting Chinese Tech Students, Says Diplomat

Netherlands Targeting Chinese Tech Students, Says Diplomat
Erik Akerboom, director-general of Dutch General Intelligence (Dutch Ministerie van Defensie)

The Lede: The Dutch government is considering a screening process to assess possible security risks of inbound foreign students and researchers involved in sensitive subjects such as technology fields that some say will target Chinese students. The move comes amid a ‘de-risking’ trend among western countries concerned about trade with the world's second largest economy.

What We Know:

  • The Dutch Ministry of Education confirmed that it is working on a policy for mandatory screening for academic involvement in sensitive subjects, including semiconductors and defense. A draft of the legislation in the Netherlands would be country-neutral and is not expected to explicitly name nationalities. However, Chinese state-media speculates that the Netherlands is targeting Chinese students despite the country-neutral language.
  • Dutch education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has said that there are efforts underway to curb students funded by the state-run Chinese Scholarship Council, in which recipients of grants are required to swear allegiance to the Communist party, return to China after completing their studies, and report to the Chinese embassy in the country of study. Delft University of Technology, Maastricht University, and Eindhoven University of Technology have been reducing the number of CSC students they accept.
  • According to a recent Dutch intelligence agency report, the Netherlands considers China to be the greatest security threat to its national security as Dutch companies and institutions cannot effectively assess the risk of economic and scientific cooperation with China. Meanwhile, the report notes that China engages in corporate takeovers, academic cooperation, espionage, covert investments, and illegal exports. Dutch intelligence chief Erik Akerboom identified threats of Chinese espionage involving students and scientists.

The Background: Earlier this year, the Dutch government joined the United States in efforts to form a bloc of countries that would coordinate the restriction of chip technology and know-how to China. ASML Holding NV, a critical company in the global semiconductor industry that makes machines needed to produce the most advanced chips, accused a former China-based employee of stealing confidential information. The incident may have been a violation of export controls. ASML is the most valuable technology company in the Netherlands and Europe at large. The Netherlands and China are at odds over the takeover of a local Dutch chip maker Nowi by the Chinese-owned Nexperia.

Likely Outcomes:

  • This policy falls in line with the ‘de-risking’ trend of the Western countries opposite China. As the trend progresses in the EU and other Western-aligned countries, more governments may adopt such policies to demonstrate their commitment to securing sensitive technologies and know-how from China. While there may be security concerns among educational institutions, the next step may be to implement such policies at scale for businesses dealing in the same sensitive areas.
  • China may object and respond with increased crackdowns and regulatory probes on foreign businesses operating in China as has been the case in the past months. These kinds of measures would create mutual distrust in business and academic environments that would hamper efforts to build on the West’s relationship with China and dash hopes for cooperation in these areas in the near term.


“The country often conceals that the Chinese government or the Chinese army may be involved in such cooperation in the background. The disadvantages of cooperation often only become apparent in the longer term.” – Dutch intelligence agency report

“What I see happening is that gradually all Dutch universities will reduce the number of students from China and reduce research co-operation with Chinese counterparts. The Dutch government is asking universities to take a more restrictive approach and look after their crown jewels better.” – Robert-Jan Smits, President of the Eindhoven University of Technology

“The Chinese use cyber as a weapon, cyber as a way to commit espionage, but they also send people to us — students, but also scientific persons of all kinds to especially steal knowledge from very vulnerable places.” – Erik Akerboom, Chief of Dutch Intelligence

Good Reads:

Dutch Seek to Bar Chinese Students From Tech Courses in Chip War (Bloomberg)

Dutch government to screen Chinese tech students on security risks (FT)

Dutch Intel Agency Paints Grim Picture of Multiple Threats (VOA)