Policy report

Hunting the phoenix

The Chinese Communist Party’s global search for technology and talent
Recruitment Scientists Transparency Information technology China

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses talent-recruitment programs to gain technology from abroad through illegal or non-transparent means. According to official statistics, China’s talent-recruitment programs drew in almost 60,000 overseas professionals between 2008 and 2016. These efforts lack transparency; are widely associated with misconduct, intellectual property theft or espionage; contribute to the People’s Liberation Army’s modernisation; and facilitate human rights abuses.

The mechanisms of CCP talent recruitment are poorly understood. They’re much broader than the Thousand Talents Plan—the best known among more than 200 CCP talent-recruitment programs. Domestically, they involve creating favourable conditions for overseas scientists, regardless of ethnicity, to work in China. Those efforts are sometimes described by official sources as ‘building nests to attract phoenixes’.

This report focuses on overseas talent-recruitment operations—how the CCP goes abroad to hunt or lure phoenixes. It studies, for the first time, 600 ‘overseas talent-recruitment stations’ that recruit and gather information on scientists. Overseas organisations, often linked to the CCP’s united front system and overlapping with its political influence efforts, are paid to run most of the stations.

Key recommendations:

  • Governments should coordinate with like-minded partners, study CCP talent-recruitment activity, increase transparency on external funding in universities and establish research integrity offices that monitor such activities. They should introduce greater funding to support the retention of talent and technology.
  • Funding agencies should require grant recipients to fully disclose any participation in foreign talent-recruitment programs, investigate potential grant fraud and ensure compliance with funding agreements.
  • Research institutions should audit the extent of staff participation in foreign talent-recruitment programs. They should act on cases of misconduct, including undeclared external commitments, grant fraud and violations of intellectual property policies. They should examine and update policies as necessary. University staff should be briefed on foreign talent-recruitment programs and disclosure requirements.
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Policy Brief Report No.35/2020