By Jason Ickes May 17th 2023
The Thousand Talents Program is a Chinese government initiative aimed at attracting talented individuals from around the world, including Chinese expatriates, to work in China on a long-term basis. The program offers a range of incentives to participants, including generous salaries, research funding and access to state-of-the-art facilities.
In Michigan, the Thousand Talents Program has been a topic of controversy in recent years. In 2019, it was reported that several researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan had been participating in the program without disclosing their involvement to their universities or to the US government. According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), UM received over $591 million in federal research and development funding in 2019. This funding came from a variety of government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD) and others. MSU received over $467 million in federal research and development funding in 2019. This funding came from a variety of government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), etc.
The US government has expressed concerns that the Thousand Talents Program may be used by China to acquire sensitive technologies and intellectual property from American universities and research institutions. In response to these concerns, the US Department of Justice has launched several investigations into the program and its participants. In Michigan, several individuals have been charged with various crimes related to their involvement in the Thousand Talents Program, including wire fraud and making false statements to federal agencies. The universities involved have also taken steps to investigate the matter and to ensure that their researchers are complying with all relevant laws and regulations.
Overall, the Thousand Talents Program has become a contentious issue in the US-China relationship, with the US government taking a more aggressive stance towards Chinese efforts to acquire American technology and intellectual property. Under the Higher Education Act of 1965, universities are required to report foreign donations of over $250,000 to the Department of Education. In early 2020, the department found that American universities had accepted more than $6.5 billion in hidden foreign contributions. Harvard, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, University of Delaware, and New York University were under investigation for failing to disclose all funding from foreign sources in 2020. The House Oversight and Reform Committee demand for their records revealed the bulk of these contributions originated from China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia.(1)
In recent years, China has consistently been the country with the highest number of international students and scholars at MSU. In the 2020-21 academic year, for example, there were over 4,500 Chinese students and scholars at the university, making up more than 30% of the international population. India is also a significant source of international students and scholars at MSU, with over 1,500 Indian students and scholars in the 2020-21 academic year. South Korea and Saudi Arabia are also among the top countries of origin for MSU's international student and scholar population, with several hundred students and scholars from each country.
Confucius Institutes are cultural and educational centers established by the Chinese government to promote Chinese language and culture abroad. While their primary mission is to foster cultural exchanges and language education, there have been concerns that these institutes may serve as vehicles for China's soft power influence, propaganda, and even intelligence gathering. One high-profile case of Chinese information gathering involves a Dr. Song Guo Zheng. Dr. Zheng, a researcher at Ohio State University, held a position as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. Dr. Zheng was arrested in May 2020 and charged with making false statements to federal agencies and wire fraud. The charges against Dr. Zheng are related to allegations that he failed to disclose his participation in the Thousand Talents Program and accepted funding from the Chinese government while receiving US federal grants. Another case involves Dr. Anming Hu, a researcher at the University of Tennessee who had previously worked at the University of Michigan. Dr. Hu was arrested in February 2020 and charged with making false statements to federal agencies and wire fraud. The charges against Dr. Hu are also related to allegations that he failed to disclose his participation in the Thousand Talents Program and accepted funding from the Chinese government while receiving US federal grants. In addition to these cases, several other researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have been investigated for their involvement in the Thousand Talents Program, but it is not clear if any additional charges have been filed. In total at least 7 universities which have Confucius Institutes are also embroiled in FBI investigations, looking into their ties with CCPs Thousand Talents program.
There have also been instances where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been accused of using coercion or pressure tactics against individuals abroad, including potentially leveraging family members as a means of influence. The CCP's influence strategies can vary, and there have been reports of individuals facing pressure or harassment from Chinese authorities due to their activities or associations outside of China. These actions may include targeting individuals critical of the CCP's policies, engaging in activism, or participating in activities perceived as detrimental to China's interests. While there have been cases where individuals abroad have reported concerns about their family members in China facing harassment or being subjected to pressure, the extent and systematic nature of such coercion can vary. The FBI's Counterintelligence Strategy aims to protect national security interests by detecting, deterring, and disrupting foreign intelligence activities, including those conducted by the CCP. The strategy involves various investigative techniques, intelligence collection, and cooperation with domestic and international partners. Additionally, the FBI established the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) in 2017, which focuses on countering foreign influence in the United States, including from the CCP. The FITF coordinates efforts across the FBI to address threats posed by foreign actors seeking to covertly influence and manipulate U.S. policies and activities. Furthermore, the FBI collaborates with other U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to address the broad range of national security threats posed by foreign adversaries, including the CCP.
In November 2018, Jeff Sessions, then the Trump administration’s Attorney General, announced a program called the China Initiative, intended to combat “the deliberate, systematic, and calculated threats” from Chinese government-directed intellectual-property theft. The program, however, ended up targeting largely academics for failing to report affiliations with Chinese research institutions. In February 2022, amid concerns over ethnic profiling and the criminalization of scientific collaboration, the Biden administration shut down the China Initiative. Suspiciously, Biden shuts down Trump’s China Initiative as his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is exposed for his effort in the coverup of the Hunter Biden Laptop 51 intelligence agents letter. Chinese donors linked to Hunter Biden's business dealings and China's government steered cash to a university housing a think tank at the center of the Joe Biden classified documents controversy. New records unearthed by the conservative watchdog Americans for Public Trust and reviewed by the Washington Examiner reveal the identities of many donors to the University of Pennsylvania — home to the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. Some of the donors found on the list also have ties to Hunter Biden's past deals and the Chinese government.(2) Perhaps there are more gems swept under the rug by Beijing Biden in the process of shutting down the China Initiative?