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China’s Huawei secretly funds US research competition with millions in prizes: Report – Times of India

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Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, despite being blacklisted by the US government, has been secretly funding a research competition in the United States, Bloomberg has reported. The competition, administered by the Washington-based Optica Foundation, has awarded millions of dollars to scientists and researchers from around the world, including those from top US universities such as Harvard and the University of Southern California, which have restrictions against working with Huawei.
According to documents reviewed by Bloomberg, Huawei is the sole funder of the competition, which has attracted hundreds of proposals since its inception in 2022. The Optica Foundation, an arm of the nonprofit professional society Optica, whose members’ research focuses on light-based technologies, has been administering the competition. However, the foundation “shall not be required to designate Huawei as the funding source or program sponsor” of the competition, and “the existence and content of this Agreement and the relationship between the Parties shall also be considered Confidential Information,” as stated in a nonpublic document seen by Bloomberg.

Huawei’s strategy to fund international research

The findings shed light on one of the strategies employed by Shenzhen-based Huawei to continue funding international research despite the US restrictions imposed in recent years due to concerns over Beijing’s potential use of its technology for espionage.
Bloomberg contacted applicants, university officials, and one of the competition’s judges, who all claimed to be unaware of Huawei’s involvement in the program until questioned by a reporter. Many applicants believed that the funding came directly from the Optica Foundation and not a foreign entity.

Optica Foundation’s role in the secret funding

Liz Rogan, Optica’s CEO, told Bloomberg that some foundation donors, including US donors, “prefer to remain anonymous” and that “there is nothing unusual about this practice.” She added that the Huawei donation had been reviewed by outside legal counsel and approved by the foundation’s board. “We are completely transparent with the funding and support of the Foundation programs with the Optica Foundation Board, the Optica Board and staff,” Rogan stated.
A Huawei spokesman told Bloomberg that the company and the Optica Foundation created the competition to support global research and promote academic communication. The spokesman explained that Huawei’s name was kept private to prevent the contest from being perceived as promotional and that there was no ill intent behind the decision.
The Optica Foundation website lists 11 opportunities under “Early Career Prizes & Fellowships.” The Huawei-funded competition, which awards $1 million per year, stands out as the only one without individual and corporate financial contributors listed, while also offering twenty times the amount of the next most-lucrative annual cash prize on the site.
This secretive funding arrangement by Huawei reveals one of the ways the Chinese telecommunications giant is attempting to remain at the forefront of international research funding despite the challenges posed by US restrictions.

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