China Using Network of Researchers to Recruit Foreign Personnel

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The flag of China flies in Beijing.

Of 44 Japanese researchers who were found to have been involved in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a project led by the central government to attract high-level scientists from overseas, most of those who revealed how they got involved said they were invited by former pupils who had studied in Japan, or by Chinese acquaintances, some of whom they had conducted joint research with in Japan.

A Yomiuri Shimbun investigation showed that China is using its network of researchers to hire talented foreign personnel.

China has been implementing the Thousand Talents Plan since 2008, aiming to become a strong nation in science and technology. It is estimated that more than 7,000 foreign researchers, mainly from the United States and Europe, participated in the project through 2018.

According to the researchers, the Thousand Talents Plan usually requires applicants to submit documents detailing their careers and achievements to Chinese universities or research institutes. There are several rounds of screening in China, and it takes several months to receive a job offer.

However, researchers with experience were actively recruited. A 71-year-old professor emeritus of Kyoto University taught at the robotics research center of Beijing Institute of Technology, which is believed to have close ties to the Chinese military’s weapons development, for about 3½ years through January last year. The professor said he was invited before retiring from Kyoto University, by a Chinese researcher with whom he had conducted joint research in Japan.

He applied for the plan, sending a list of his papers and his resume to China, though he was not informed of the screening procedures in detail. “I had forgotten about it when I got the employment notice,” he said.

Hiromichi Nagasawa, a 72-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo who studied crustaceans at Zhejiang University for 2½ years from 2014, was invited by a Zhejiang University professor, a former pupil who had studied in Japan, after he reached retirement age.

The pupil handled the application process and presented Nagasawa’s achievements at a selection meeting in Beijing. Nagasawa signed a contract stipulating his tenure and compensation, but said, “To be honest, the selection process is not clear.”

According to Yutaka Saito, a 72-year-old professor emeritus at Hokkaido University, Chinese researchers at the university sometimes recommended Japanese researchers to participate in the Thousand Talents Plan. Saito joined at the invitation of a Chinese researcher he met about 20 years ago through his research on ticks.

Tetsuro Majima is a 68-year-old professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Hubei Province who specializes in optical and radiation chemistry and has participated in the Thousand Talents Plan since 2018. Majima said he was once asked by the Chinese side to evaluate the achievements of researchers from various countries.

“Chinese universities and research institutes seem to be constantly looking for good researchers from around the world,” Majima said.