What is China's 'Thousand Talents Program'?

What is China’s ‘Thousand Talents Program’?


In 2008, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched the “Thousand Talents Program”, explicitly designed to lure top scientific talent to work for China.

The CCP made no secret of their desire to benefit from the knowledge and experience of some of the most brilliant minds in America and Europe, and according to them, the program has been successful in attracting talent to work for the good of the Chinese people.

The CCP touts the creation of 73 companies and the enticement of 11,000 high level talent candidates to China as a result of the program.

The United States Senate, however, alleges the program was deliberately designed to steal top-secret intellectual property from the U.S. government as well top universities and research institutes.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic came into view in early 2020, American professor Charles Liebler was charged with lying to the government about his relationship with China.

Lieber, the esteemed chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, allegedly received millions of dollars from China to share his research and to help establish the Wuhan University of Technology.

Many believe this is the Thousand Talents Program in action.

While the American system of grants has become increasingly byzantine, China offers more flexibility for researchers to explore their chosen fields. The catch, however, is that anyone who signs up for the Thousand Talents Program must turn over all their research and intellectual property to the Chinese government.

According to Dr. James Mulvenon of defense contractor SOS International, universities and government organizations have been hesitant to investigate researchers who were part of the Thousand Talents Program for fear of being accused of racial profiling.

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Indeed, China has taken advantage of the culture of social justice disseminated by American left, as can be seen in their attacks on anyone who looks too closely at the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officially, the CCP denies that fraud and theft are the goals of the TTP.

Fang Hong, a spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy, told the New York Times in February: “It is extremely irresponsible and ill intentioned to link individual behaviors to China’s talent plan.”

In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched a special initiative to combat what he called the “deliberate, systematic, and calculated threats posed, in particular, by the communist regime in China, which is notorious around the world for intellectual property theft.”

While not mentioning the TTP by name, it was clear this was one of the programs that the Justice Department had its eye on.

A year after Sessions’s announcement, the Senate Homeland Security committee held hearings on the TTP program itself and concluded that the program was a threat to American interests.

The committee report did not mince words:

“…the Thousand Talents Plan incentivizes individuals engaged in research and development in the United States to transmit the knowledge and research they gain here to China in exchange for salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives.  China unfairly uses the American research and expertise it obtains for its own economic and military gain. In recent years, federal agencies have discovered talent recruitment plan members who downloaded sensitive electronic research files before leaving to return to China, submitted false information when applying for grant funds, and willfully failed to disclose receiving money from the Chinese government on U.S. grant applications.”

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Several government and university researchers have been charged with theft of intellectual property and lying to the government since 2018, with Professor Lieber being the latest and arguably highest profile.

Charges range from wire fraud – as in the case of Simon Ang of the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li, a former professor at Emory University in Atlanta – both charged with withholding information that they were on the payroll of the Thousand Talents program, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from them while also receiving grants from the University and NASA.

A more severe case saw the arrest of Zaosong Zheng in 2019.

Zheng’s visa had been sponsored by Harvard, and he was accused of preparing to smuggle cancer cells from the United States to China for research.

Xiaorong (Shannon) You, a polymer scientist, was indicted for conspiracy to steal trade secrets related to formulations for bisphenol-A-free (BPA-free) coating from Coca Cola and Eastman Chemical.

Lieber’s specialty was in nanotechnology, which is on the cutting edge of multiple scientific fields.

While scientific idealism might cause researchers to be generous with their knowledge, they should beware of foreign governments offering gifts.

It is clear that the Chinese Communist Party is committed to winning the new technology race by any means necessary.

President Trump, recently asked about possible Chinese attempts of hacking U.S. databases to steal technology related to vaccines, answered: “So what else is new with China? What else is new? Tell me. I’m not happy with China.”

And nor should the rest of us be.

Vinny Ungro contributed to this report

Brian Almon

Brian Almon is a 2020 National Pulse Writing Fellow

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