Expat Recruitment Plan Aids Beijing’s Strategy of Stealing US Technology

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
December 20, 2018Updated: December 20, 2018

The Chinese regime’s expat recruitment plan has raised national security concerns in the United States due to its role in the theft of U.S. intellectual property and other technology-related secrets.

The Thousand Talents Plan focuses on bringing Chinese students and researchers working abroad back to China. It has recruited at least 6,000 people since 2008.

According to a recent report by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the aims of the program fit with the Chinese regime’s model of tech development, which can be summarized as “rob, replicate, replace.”

In the report, NIH expressed concerns that Thousand Talents recruits had access to American intellectual property and that they transfer key data—produced using U.S. federal research money—to China.

The introduction on the official website of the program confirms the concerns raised by the NIH. It states that the program aims to recruit people under the age of 55 who have earned doctorates from prestigious overseas universities.

In addition, the recruits should have “full professorships or the equivalent in prestigious foreign universities and R&D institutes,” have “senior titles from well-known international companies or financial institutions,” own “intellectual property” or “core technologies,” possess “overseas independent entrepreneurial experience,” or be familiar with relevant industrial fields and international rules.

“Their technologies or invention patents shall be in the leading position by international standard, filling the gap in China, in line of national strategic direction of key industries with potential market which can be put into industrialized production,” the Thousand Talents page reads.

The NIH report gave several examples of alleged IP theft via Thousand Talents, including the case of Ruopeng Liu, a Chinese-American who worked at Duke University. Liu stole data from his professor’s project to create an “invisibility cloak” and brought it back to China to begin his own startup.

Thousand Talents and China’s Development Model

The U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Dec. 12: “The [Chinese regime’s] playbook is simple: Rob, replicate, and replace. Rob the American company of its intellectual property. Replicate the technology. And replace the American company in the Chinese market and one day in the global market.”

U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan told The Epoch Times on Dec. 18: “Most of the recruits of the Thousand Talents Program are naturalized Americans, [meaning that] they betray their own country by stealing advanced and unique American technologies and giving them China, a rival of the United States. Then they use these technologies in Chinese industry and sell the products overseas.”

Tang said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hacks and steals technology from all around the world as a form of legal robbery, as well as forcing the transfer of technology from foreign companies operating in China. Thousand Talents gives the CCP a roundabout method of acquiring advanced know-how.

FBI’s top counterintelligence official, FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap, told senators on Dec. 12 about the cyberespionage threat from China.

“I believe this is the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our nation today,” Priestap said. “What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the U.S., but the future of the world.”

Priestap said that awareness of this threat is lacking in U.S. society. Speaking of a meeting he had with business leaders in three states, he said: “On the one hand, I was amazed at some of those business leaders’ understanding of the way the threat is working today. On the other hand, with different business leaders, I was amazed at the lack of understanding of the gravity, capabilities, methodologies of China.”