Hunting the Phoenix: New Report Uncovers 600 Chinese “Talent-Recruitment Stations”

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 8/23

A new research study published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) provides key insights into the inner workings of China’s “talent-recruitment programs,” reports The Wall Street Journal. In the study, titled “Hunting the Phoenix: The Chinese Communist Party’s global search for technology and talent,” ASPI analyst Alex Joske dives into the years-long effort of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to spy on rival countries’ research operations and steal their findings, most notably those of the United States. 

Until now, the National Association of Scholars and others have reported on the “who,” the “what,” the “where,” the “when,” and even some of the “why” of these efforts, including our work on Confucius Institutes and the largest and most important talent-recruitment program, the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP). But the ASPI’s report provides crucial, newly discovered details on the how.

Joske writes that the TTP is overseen by the CCP’s “Overseas High-level Talent Recruitment Work Group,” the members of which represent at least sixteen government agencies. In other words, China is all in on “talent-recruitment” (read: espionage, intellectual property theft, and propaganda) and has invested untold amounts of money and manpower to ensure its success. So far, this strategy has worked wonders for the CCP. Indeed, “According to official statistics, China’s talent-recruitment programs drew in almost 60,000 overseas professionals between 2008 and 2016.”

The working group recruits TTP members through what Joske calls “talent-recruitment stations.” To track these, “the ASPI International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) has created an original database of 600 overseas talent-recruitment stations.” Of the 600 stations, at least 146 are in the United States, far and away the most in the world—Germany and Australia are tied for a distant second place with 57 each.

These talent-recruitment stations are “contracted to local professional, community, student and business organisations, such as the Federation of Chinese Professionals in Europe.” As with most secret dealings with the Chinese Communist Party, TTP recruiters are compensated handsomely for their subversion. Specifically, “Organisations running recruitment stations can receive as much as ¥200,000 (A$40,000) for each individual they recruit. In addition, they’re paid as much as ¥150,000 (A$30,000) a year for general operating costs.” This corresponds to about $29,000 and $21,500 in USD, respectively.

The CCP’s “talent-recruitment” efforts have increased dramatically in recent years—“Of the 600 stations identified in this report, more than 115 [~19%] were established in 2018 alone.”— and need to be stopped. Joske emphasizes later in the report:

Much of the misconduct associated with talent-recruitment programs breaches existing laws, contracts and institutional policies. The fact that it nonetheless occurs at high levels points to a failure of compliance and enforcement mechanisms across research institutions and relevant government agencies. Governments and research institutions should therefore emphasise the need to build an understanding of CCP talent-recruitment work. They must also ensure that they enforce existing policies, while updating them as necessary.

I strongly recommend that anyone interested in China’s efforts to subvert, transfer, and steal America’s best and brightest read the report and explore the work of Alex Joske and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The Chinese Communist Party’s international research theft campaign has gone on long enough, particularly in the United States—lawmakers, law enforcement, and concerned citizens must be keenly aware of the extent of the CCP’s underhanded dealings and work to quash them accordingly.

Keep an eye out for our forthcoming report set for release in September. In it, NAS Senior Fellow Rachelle Peterson examines the deep, underreported ties between American K-12 educational institutions and the Chinese Communist Party.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch, Public Domain

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