Ex-head of Chinese university sanctioned by US becomes vice industry minister

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 7:34 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) – A former head of a Chinese aeronautics university sanctioned by the Trump administration for links with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has become a deputy of a ministry in charge of advancing Chinese technological innovation.

Shan Zhongde, 54, was named a vice minister of industry and information technology on Friday by the State Council, or cabinet, according to state media.

In June 2020, Shan was made the head of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In November last year, he became the chief of the Communist Party committee at the university.

In May 2020, former U.S. president Donald Trump banned the entry of Chinese graduate students from military-affiliated universities in China due to concern that the students could steal intellectual property and sensitive technology to benefit the PLA. China has rejected all accusations of theft.

Students from seven universities known as China’s “Seven Sons of National Defence”, including Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, were targeted. The institutions are all overseen by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

China and the United States are increasingly bitter technological rivals. Washington has slapped curbs on exports of some advanced technologies and know-how to China on national security worries. Beijing has responded by accusing the U.S. of containing its economic development.

The U.S. curbs have galvanised China to seek greater self-reliance in advanced technology, especially in manufacturing, as the world’s second-largest economy pivots towards artificial intelligence and smart factories.

Shan’s expertise in mechanical engineering and background in next-generation manufacturing including aerospace technologies would benefit initiatives by the industry and information technology ministry to spur innovation in Chinese manufacturing.

“Intelligent manufacturing is the deep integration of a new generation of information technology, digital technology and manufacturing,” Shan told Chinese state media last month.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Hugh Lawson)