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China Secretly Revived Its Elite Scientist Poaching Program To Gain Supremacy In Tech War

China quietly revived a program in 2020 that aimed to recruit foreign-trained scientists to help the country’s efforts in bolstering its semiconductor manufacturing industry, according to Reuters.

The program, originally named the Thousand Talents Plan, stopped work in 2018 after the U.S. launched investigations into the scientists that were a part of the program, and it was later revived under the name Qiming and overseen by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, according to Reuters. The U.S. and China are currently in a tech war, with both countries trying to gain an advantage in the strategic semiconductor industry, which is essential for technological research.

“Foreign adversaries and strategic competitors understand that acquiring top U.S. and Western talent is often just as good as acquiring the technology itself,” Dean Boyd, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, told Reuters. “When that recruitment creates inherent conflicts of interest or commitment, that can create risks to U.S. economic and national security.”

An intelligence report previously found that China embedded 162 Chinese scientists at a U.S. facility that conducted sensitive government-funded research, and at least 13 of those scientists returned to China later as a part of the country’s subversive talent programs. The Justice Department described the program as trying to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to be used for Chinese gain.

The program targets foreign scientists, or Chinese scientists with foreign citizenship or living abroad, and offers perks like home-purchase subsidies and signing bonuses between $420,000 and $700,000, according to Reuters. The program does not publicize its recipients on government websites like the previous one had done.

The Semiconductor Industry Association, a group of top semiconductor companies, alleged Wednesday that major Chinese telecommunications company Huawei is constructing a shadow network to manufacture semiconductors in order to evade U.S. sanctions. Huawei is currently on the Department of Commerce entity list, which prohibits it from working with American companies.

The semiconductor industry in China is estimated to be short of about 200,000 people, including chip designers and engineers, according to Reuters. It is not known how many people have been recruited by Qiming, but thousands have applied.

The Biden administration placed restrictions blocking U.S. companies from doing business with multiple Chinese companies related to the industry in October 2022. The restrictions were put in place in order to prevent Chinese firms from purchasing semiconductors and the materials needed to manufacture them.

The Biden administration placed more restrictions in August, banning investments in some companies that are involved in the semiconductor, quantum computing and artificial intelligence sectors.

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