HONG KONG/SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON, Aug 24 (Reuters) – For a decade until 2018, China sought to recruit elite foreign-trained scientists under a lavishly funded program that Washington saw as a threat to US interests and technological supremacy. Used to see as
Two years after it stopped promoting the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP) amid US scrutiny of scientists, China has quietly launched the initiative under a new name and format as part of a broader mission to accelerate its technological prowess. Revived, this happened according to three sources. case and a Reuters review of more than 500 government documents spanning 2019 to 2023.
The revised recruitment drive, first reported in detail by Reuters, offers perks including home-buying subsidies and typical signing bonuses of 3 to 5 million yuan, or $420,000 to $700,000, all three people told Reuters.
China operates overseas talent programs at various levels of government, targeting a mix of Chinese and foreign experts. The primary replacement for the TTP is a program overseen by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which, like others, talks about the condition, according to national and local policy documents, online recruitment ads and a person with direct knowledge of the matter. does. On condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The race to attract tech talent begins as President Xi Jinping stresses the need for China to catch up self-sufficiency in semiconductors in the face of US export restrictions. Rules adopted by the US Commerce Department in October bar US citizens and permanent residents from supporting the development and production of advanced chips in China, among other measures.
Neither China’s State Council Information Office nor the ministry responded to questions about Kiming. According to the official Xinhua news agency, China has previously said that its foreign recruitment through the TTP aims to build an innovation-driven economy and promote talent mobility while respecting intellectual property rights.
Qiming, or Enlightenment, recruits from scientific and technical fields that include “sensitive” or “classified” areas such as semiconductors, two of the people said. Unlike its predecessor, it does not publicize the award winners and is absent from central government websites, which sources said reflects its sensitivity.
Some documents refer to Huoju or Qiming with Torch, a long-term initiative of the Ministry of Science and Technology focused on creating clusters of tech companies. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Kimming works closely with recruitment initiatives run by local and provincial authorities and government-backed recruitment drives by Chinese chip companies, according to two people familiar with the matter and another source. Reuters could not independently identify the companies involved.
The US has long accused China of stealing intellectual property and technology, a charge Beijing has dismissed as politically motivated.
Asked about Chinese talent recruitment plans, Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the US government’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said, “Foreign adversaries and strategic competitors understand that acquiring top American and Western talent is often as good as acquiring technology.” “
“When that recruitment creates an inherent conflict of interest or commitment, it may pose a risk to US economic and national security.”
Minimizing the leakage of intellectual property through talent flow is difficult, said Nick Marrow, China analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, because such efforts “could risk turning into ethnically charged witch hunts”.
China’s chip industry has flourished in recent years but face shortage About 200,000 people, including engineers and chip designers, this year, according to a 2021 report published by the China Center for Information Industry Development, a government think tank, and the China Semiconductor Industry Association.
China’s new talent efforts, which focus on niche-level recruitment like the TTP, prefer applicants trained at top overseas institutions, the three sources said.
“Most of the applicants selected for Qiming have studied at top US universities and have at least a PhD,” said one of the people. He said scientists trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and Stanford universities were among those sought by China. , The universities did not respond to requests for comment.
Reuters could not determine how many specialists have been recruited under Qiming or related programs, although thousands have applied, according to a Reuters review of government documents.
US officials say that although talent poaching is not illegal in the US, if university researchers fail to disclose affiliations with Chinese entities when receiving funding from the US government to conduct research, illegal proprietary share information, or violate export controls, they risk breaking the law.
Reuters found more than a dozen ads for Kimming applicants posted from 2022 on the Chinese platform Zhihu (2390.HK) and LinkedIn by people who identified themselves as recruiters.
In a February LinkedIn post, Chen Biaohua, who listed her employer as Beijing Talent Linked Information Technology, asked candidates eligible for Qiming and Huoju to email her their resumes.
The post said Chen was looking for “young talents” under the age of 40 with doctorates from renowned universities and overseas experience. He was also looking for applicants who hold senior positions in foreign educational institutions or large companies.
Headhunting firm Hangzhou Juki Technology posted an ad in March on ResearchGate, a social network for academics, seeking doctorates from top universities and people with experience at Fortune 500 companies to help recruit 5,000 foreign researchers for Chinese enterprises. The search was done.
The ad describes the effort as a service to Qiming and Huoju, with each researcher able to receive a prize of 15 million yuan, or about $2.1 million. It states that anyone who recommends a candidate who is selected for talent programs will receive “diamonds, bags, cars and houses”.
Chen and LinkedIn declined to comment. Queries sent to Chen’s employer as well as to Zhihu, ResearchGate and Hangzhou Juki Technology went unanswered.
A foreign-trained semiconductor expert at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) was identified on its website as the 2021 Kiming recipient. Ma Yuanxiao is an associate professor in BIT’s School of Integrated Circuits and Electronics, who did his masters at the University of Nottingham, UK between 2013 and 2015, and a PhD from the University of Hong Kong until 2019.
Ma and BIT did not respond to requests for comment.
Official documents show that provincial and municipal governments across China are pouring resources into the recruitment drive.
One initiative is the Kunpeng plan run by authorities in eastern Zhejiang province, whose 2019 launch was covered in state media. The Zhejiang Daily reported in June 2022 that the program aims to attract 200 technical experts over five years, of whom 48 have already been recruited.
According to the city government’s 2022 Talent Policy Report, in the eastern city of Wenzhou, local authorities’ investment in each Kunpeng professional may reach 200 million yuan, including individual awards, start-up funding and housing.
A report by the Wenzhou branch of the Communist Party’s organization department, which oversees personnel decisions, said its total budget in 2022 would increase by 49% from a year earlier, mainly because it increased Kunpeng and similar programs by 85 million. yuan was allocated.
One Kunpeng recipient is Dawei Di, a Cambridge-educated professor at Zhejiang University whose research focuses on semiconductor optoelectronic devices, the university’s Journal reported in 2021.
According to a 2021 city directive, in Huzhou, also in Zhejiang, employers who recommend candidates to Qiming may receive incentive payments of up to 1.5 million yuan from the city or district governments if those people are accepted. Is.
No city, provincial or Communist Party officials, nor Di or his university, responded to questions from Reuters.
‘one foot out’
Despite Xi’s emphasis on advancing China’s chip technology, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said many Chinese semiconductor experts abroad are wary of returning because of China’s political climate and weak position in chip development relative to the West. Were.
“They have no idea that programs can change overnight or lose government support,” said one.
Zhuji, a county-level city in Zhejiang, reported in October 2022 that it had more than 200 applicants for talent programs, mainly Qiming, but only eight successful candidates had returned to China from the previous year. The Zhuji government general office did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
Two people familiar with the matter said some Chinese scientists, especially those with foreign citizenship or permanent residency, are concerned that joining China’s government talent programs could mean giving up international opportunities or becoming the subject of a US investigation.
In some cases, those experts will be offered roles in overseas operations of Chinese chip companies, these people said.
One said, “It’s safer to keep one foot in China, one foot out.”
($1 = 7.1475 Chinese Yuan Renminbi)
Reporting by Julie Zhu, Fanny Potkin, Eduardo Baptista and Michael Martina; Editing by David Crawshaw
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Doctrine.