(Bloomberg) -- China’s “Thousand Talents” program to tap into its citizens educated or employed in the U.S. is a key part of multi-pronged efforts to transfer, replicate and eventually overtake U.S. military and commercial technology, according to American intelligence officials.
The program, begun in 2008, is far from secret. But its unadvertised goal is “to facilitate the legal and illicit transfer of U.S. technology, intellectual property and know-how” to China, according to an unclassified analysis by the National Intelligence Council, the branch of U.S. intelligence that assesses long-term trends.
The program was highlighted Thursday to House Armed Services Committee members as Pentagon and intelligence officials outlined what they said was an aggressive, 10-part Chinese “toolkit for foreign technology acquisition.”
The National Intelligence Council’s analysis, produced in April, described the Thousand Talents Plan as “China’s flagship talent program and probably the largest in terms of funding.” The program also was cited in a combative White House report posted Tuesday titled “How China’s Economic Aggression Threatens the Technologies and Intellectual Property of the United States and the World.”
Breakdown of Recruits
The assessment discussed Thursday numbered the current of pool Thousand Talents recruits at 2,629 -- 44 percent of whom specialize in medicine, life or health sciences, 22 percent in applied industrial technologies, 8 percent in computer sciences and 6 percent each in aviation/aerospace and astronomy. Smaller percentages possessed U.S.-garnered expertise in economics, finance and mathematics.
American military and intelligence officials have long warned that China threatens the nation’s security as well as its economy. The warnings have escalated under President Donald Trump, whose moves to impose tariffs on China and Beijing’s counter-moves have heightened fears of a trade war.
The U.S. still is seeking a level of cooperation with China, including its help in maintaining sanctions to pressure North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that he’s traveling to China next week.
The Pentagon “is facing an unprecedented threat to its technological and industrial base,” as the U.S.’s “open society” has “offered China and others access to the same technology and information that is crucial to the success of our future war-fighting capabilities,” Michael Griffin, under secretary for research and engineering, testified at Thursday’s hearing.
“We have seen the Chinese target top talent in American universities and research labs
of the private sector, including defense contractors and the U.S. government,” he said. The solution must include strengthening American counterintelligence capabilities and elevating the private sector’s focus on security, he added.
Tony Schinella, the national intelligence officer for military issues, testified that in addition to using the Thousand Talents program, “Beijing also has employed Western-trained returnees to implement important changes in its science, engineering, and math curricula that foster greater creativity and applied skills at China’s top-tier universities.”
Another tool to gain access to U.S. technology is “joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions,” he said. “Tech transfer to China is occurring in part through increased levels in investment and acquisitions of U.S. companies, which hit a record level in 2016 before dropping somewhat in 2017 and again in the first half of 2018.”
China’s aggregate investment in American technology over the past decade, from 2007 to 2017, totaled approximately $40 billion and was about $5.3 billion last year, he said.
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