HomeChinaAs Scrutiny Increases, China Masks its 'Thousand Talents Plan'

As Scrutiny Increases, China Masks its ‘Thousand Talents Plan’

China has been hiding the identities of its top scientific recruits as the FBI and other U.S. agencies become more vigilant regarding intellectual property violations, data theft, and other forms of espionage.

In particular, U.S. investigators have gone after the Thousand Talents Plan, Beijing’s drive to recruit science talent for its own technological advancement. The recent developments have caused many researchers to avoid associating themselves with Chinese recruitment, and Chinese government and academic websites have removed lists of affiliated individuals.

Instructions from Chinese institutions regarding the Thousand Talents Plan have been leaked and circulated on social media. Recruiters are advised to avoid email correspondence or mention of the plan when contacting candidates to bring to China.

The Trump administration has been leading a shift in the United States’ approach to dealing with China and the communist regime’s strategic ambitions, including in the fields of science and research. According to a June report published by the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, Beijing uses its recruitment of scholars and experts as a primary channel for pilfering U.S. tech and intellectual property (IP).

Estimates have put losses incurred by the United States as a result of IP theft at US$600 billion per year.

A hearing held this April called “Scholars or Spies” was organized by subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission head Michael Wessel advised Congress to cut off financial and other forms of assistance to individuals involved with the Thousand Talents Plan.

Started in 2008, the Thousand Talent Plan has brought over 7,000 people to China — most of them overseas Chinese studying or working in foreign universities and companies. Most recruits returned to China from the United States, and some high-profile individuals have kept their partnerships with U.S. institutions.

Xi Xiaoxing, a physicist at Temple University, said that scientists should be concerned about the U.S. government’s actions, which he claims threaten academic freedom. In 2015, Xi was arrested by the FBI on charges of leaking sensitive technological data to China, but his case was “abruptly dropped four months later,” as reported in an article by the Nature International Journal of Science.

According to Nature, China and the United States “are the top collaborating pair in the production of high-quality scientific research worldwide, based on their joint authorship contributions to articles in the 82 journals tracked by the Nature Index.”

Eight years ago, university student Li Li robbed a bank at his school and was sentenced to 10 years. Li Li was released early from prison and scored high enough to again be admitted to a key university. (Image: N509FZ via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0)
China and the United States ‘are the top collaborating pair in the production of high-quality scientific research worldwide.’ (Image: N509FZ via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0)


In 2015, international students made up one-third of U.S. degrees in science and engineering at the master’s and doctorate levels.

Of the “doctorate recipients on temporary visas between 1995 and 2015, some 29%, or 63,576, were from China,” the article noted.

Nature cited a Chinese higher-education policy analyst in Japan as saying that the increased scrutiny of China’s recruitment programs would cause setbacks to the Chinese government’s aims to compete in and dominate fields such as artificial intelligence, and that the best researchers had little reason to leave the United States.  

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  • Leo Timm is a writer and translator focusing on China's traditional culture, international relations, and its national polity. Follow him on Twitter at @soil_and_grain.

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