Australian Strategic Policy Institute Chinese Communist Party influence researcher Alex Joske said Canberra’s stance on Huawei was contradictory.
«It’s simply an issue of poor coordination across the government,» Mr Joske said.
But the ARC said each grant was assessed on its merits, and that grantees had to comply with legislation designed to keep technology with national security implications in Australia, and foreign influence out.
Huawei was banned from providing 5G infrastructure in Australia, the United States and New Zealand over concerns around a 2017 Chinese law which has been interpreted as requiring Chinese companies to support the country’s national intelligence gathering efforts.
Its global chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who helped establish Huawei in Australia, was arrested in Canada after the United States accused her of violating US sanctions against Iran.
Huawei has previously denied those claims, saying it is a private company with a clean record that takes privacy and security seriously.
Huawei’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Jeremy Mitchell, said the company was proud of its partnerships in Australia.
«We welcome the opportunity to share our global expertise and innovation with governments and research organisations to make Australia more productive and competitive,” Mr Mitchell said.
It is understood the Australian government made a significant financial contribution to the Seeds for the Future project through the NCP, which gives scholarships to students to study in Asia.
Over the last two years, 54 students were selected to participate in the three-week Seeds for the Future exchange.
The Wall Street Journal reported in late January that a Huawei official arrested on suspicion of spying had visited the campus of a Polish military academy through a Polish iteration of Seeds for the Future.
There is no suggestion that anyone involved in Seeds for the Future or Huawei-linked ARC grants in Australia has engaged in any wrongdoing.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the NCP did not have a direct partnership with Huawei, but instead funded universities that worked with the company.
A spokesman for the group of Australian universities participating in Seeds for the Future said it was underscored by a thorough due diligence process.
And Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the ARC works with the Department of Defence to ensure it complies with national security controls.
«The ARC works closely on an ongoing basis with the Department of Defence (DoD) regarding the compliance of ARC-funded research, through the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012,» Mr Tehan said.
But Mr Joske said compliance with the legislation was insufficient to ensure projects were in Australia’s national interest.
«There is a lot of room to improve Australia’s trade controls legislation,» Mr Joske said. A review of the legislation has been completed, but is yet to be made public.
Mr Joske’s colleague Tom Uren, who specialises in cyber strategy, said the changing nature of warfare made it harder to separate military and civilian technology.
«The technologies that were really important to defence and national security were really defined … but the rise of technology in the whole economy makes it much harder to draw that distinction in a clean way and I think government is catching up to the implications,» Mr Uren said.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.