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Assault on China's talent programs expose US parochialism

CGTN | Updated: 2019-11-26 10:05
Graduates of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) wave flags during the commencement ceremony of the 264th Academic Year at Columbia University in New York, U.S., May 16, 2018. /Xinhua Photo

Editor's Note: Huang Yongfu is a senior fellow at the International Cooperation Center (ICC) of the National Development and Reform Commission of the People's Republic of China. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The US Senate panel has opened a hearing on a report targeting China's talent programs, alleging China of systematically orchestrating government-funded talent plans, such as Thousand Talents Program (TTP), to steal US research and intellectual property.

The hearing was followed by a report titled "Threats to the US Research Enterprise: China's Talent Recruitment Plans" and led by Senator Rob Portman, also chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), and Senator Tom Carper.

Is Trump administration credible?

If American sanctions on Huawei are for its chasm of sensitive telecommunication network from China, the assault on TTP is part of the latest attempt to disentangle scientific community with China and carve up Sino-US joint scientific research and exchanges.

However, during his speech on Trump administration's China policy at the Woodrow Wilson International Center on October 24, US Vice President Mike Pence explicitly denied the intention to decouple the US-China economic relationship, using a resonant "No."

The egregious breach of trust by the Trump administration seems to have become a "new normal".

Just to name a few, last month the Trump administration abruptly abandoned the Kurds – key allies of the US in the war against Islamic State (ISIL) – during the Turkish assault on Syria that had devastating consequences, leaving 500 Kurdish civilians dead and some 300,000 displaced.

The bipartisan report mentioned above accused China of running organized and often secret campaign or programs, such as TTP, to recruit scientists working at US universities to steal technology and intellectual property of the United States. It blamed the permission-granting institutions of being lax in properly scrutinizing foreign scientists, verifying information in applications and ensuring the integrity of the process while putting forward 14 suggestions to effectively and relentlessly respond to the threat of Chinese talent recruitment plans and keep US-funded research from being shared with China.

What is China's 'Thousand Talents Plan'?

To build an innovative economy and dramatically increase the education level, since the late 1990s China has opened its doors to talent from around the world through several high-quality programs, the best-known being the 2008-launched TTP.

These programs encourage talented people to develop their careers in China, especially those having full professorships or equivalent from prestigious foreign universities and R&D institutes, or senior titles from well-known international companies or financial institutions.

These programs are open for not only talented Chinese nationals, but also outstanding ethnic Chinese, immigrants and foreign nationals, representing a significant break from traditional policies and promoting greater openness in Chinese academic institutions.

More prominently, the Chinese government has announced that it will allow foreign nationals to take senior roles in science and technology sectors and state-owned enterprises, to pay foreigners salaries equal to what they can earn at top paying jobs in the West, and even offer permanent resident-type visas to foreign entrepreneurs.

The Chinese government allows huge grants for research in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering through the National Key Innovation Projects, the National Key Disciplines and the National Key Laboratories, where appointed researchers and academics can apply for funds for their research in China or joint research abroad.

Anxiety fuels US assault on China's talents programs

China's rapid advances in 5G, AI, robotics, gene editing, and data flows in recent years have kept the Trump administration on the edge as to whether China is about to surpass the United States.

The bipartisan report touts that US funds provided by institutions such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Energy Department "flow to researchers under contract with Beijing," contributing to China's global rise and technological and military dominance over the last 20 years.

The report recklessly claims that researchers affiliated with Chinese talent programs may "return to China after conducting taxpayers-funded research in the US and bring intellectual property and research findings with them," however, it is very natural that many professors and scientists have been moving around from the UK to Germany and Japan among other countries.

The report willfully assails TTP members as being "often prohibited from disclosing their affiliation" to their primary employers. In fact, TTP members are encouraged to work in China on a full-time basis, although some prefer to moonlight at Chinese institutions while they continue with their jobs abroad.

The bipartisan report ridiculously asserts that TTP members "steal or illicitly transfer intellectual property or turn over their findings to China". Multiple TTP members were lambasted for having taken sensitive information to China, some of whom have been prosecuted without sufficient evidence of intellectual property theft or export control violations.

As widely-recognized researchers belong to the global scientific community with openness, transparency and collaboration as essential values to uphold. More specifically, research findings are not derived by one person or one team but globally via open platforms or sources, and research findings in the form of scientific publications are typically shared among all scientists.

China has offered considerable subsidies to advance research in the world, including the US, via a number of government-funded programs that support TTP members in either their research in China or joint research abroad.

It is suffice to say that the hostile claims and allegations against China inflamed by the increasing anxiety highlight the parochialism and selfishness in supporting global scientific research of the US government at best. It is in fact the intellectual openness and investment that have made China the growing technological vanguard in the world.

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