Three state-funded Chinese institutes have posted job adverts this year targeting Chinese scientists in Britain in a bid to recruit high tech talent.
The institutes, which advertised on the Chinese Embassy website, are looking for candidates for the National Natural Science Foundation’s (NSFC’s) Science Fund Programme for Distinguished Young Scholars (Overseas)—a recruitment and funding scheme similar to the so-called Thousand Talent Plan.
Vacancies are in areas such as marine environmental science and biomedical science to more sensitive fields such as semiconductors and advanced materials, although some technologies used in innocuous areas, such as remote sensing, also have military applications.
There is no evidence to suggest the recruitment campaigns are aimed at intellectual property theft or developing military capabilities, but they have raised concerns about British knowhow being transferred to communist-controlled China.
China experts told The Epoch Times that while the UK shouldn’t impose a blanket ban on Chinese students, it needs to be more careful with choosing candidates in sensitive areas.
The SuZhou Institute of Systems Medicine, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences posted an advert in English looking for researchers and professors in medical fields.
Two Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)-affiliated institutes, Suzhou Institute of Nano-Tech and Nano-Bionics (SINANO) and Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research (YIC), posted job adverts in Chinese only.
YIC was looking for talent in fields including marine resource, environmental, ecology, biology, chemistry, information, remote sensing, and engineering.
SINANO was seeking researchers in electronics, biomedics, and materials, including 20 sub-areas such as semiconductor materials and manufacturing; protection, energy, or thermal management materials; and bionic unmanned platforms and systems—many of which would have both civilian and military applications.
For example, advanced materials are crucial for a wide range of industries including semiconductors or aeroplanes, and bionic unmanned systems on butterfly, bird, or balloon-shaped drones or fish-shaped underwater vehicles can be used for surveillance and reconnaissance tasks and avoid being recognised by radar.
All three institutes are looking for candidates to apply for the NSFC’s Science Fund Programme for Distinguished Young Scholars (Overseas), with SINANO also hiring under different schemes.
The three-year funding programme provides 1 to 3 million yuan (£119,000 to £359,000) per person, aiming to attract young and accomplished scientists who have the potential to become leading figures in their fields.
In total, YIC promised successful applicants a competitive salary, housing, schooling and holiday benefits, and up to 4 million yuan (£476,000) research funding and expenses.
SINANO said successful applicants would get a salary of 700,000 yuan (£83,800), at least 3.75 million yuan (£450,000) in relocation and other expenses, at least 9 million yuan (£1 million) in research funding, temporary accommodation, and other benefits and rewards.
SINANO was also hiring researchers under other in-house schemes such as the CAS young talent programme, targeting those who have three years’ work experience or are in key technology fields that are “urgently needed in an important national mission.”
Postdoctoral candidates are also promised opportunities to study abroad with state funding.
Among the 162 researchers listed on SINANO’s website, almost two-thirds listed studying or working experience outside mainland China or Hong Kong.
More than a third have studied or worked in the United States; 8 percent, or 13 people, have been in the UK; and 12 percent have been in Japan. Others have been in countries including Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, South Korea, France, Australia, Sweden, or Canada.
UK Needs Better Guidance, Stronger Background Checks: Experts
U.S. and other Western governments have long been concerned with Beijing’s talent recruitment schemes such as the Thousand Talents Plan.
The FBI has said businesses, universities, and laboratories should understand the potential risks and illegal conduct incentivized by these programmes and take steps to safeguard trade secrets and intellectual property.
According to The Guardian, Freedom of Information requests showed that in 2022, the Foreign Office barred more than 1,000 scientists and postgraduate students—many of them Chinese—from working in the UK on national security grounds.
Alan Mendoza, co-founder and executive director of foreign affairs and defence think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said it’s a “difficult” area in which to balance risks.
“You want to have some scientific exchange, that’s important, but at the same time, you want to make sure that information is not taken from your capabilities to be used in a hostile way against you,” Mendoza told The Epoch Times.
He said it would be “a bit draconian” to impose a full-scale ban on Chinese students, but there “needs to be a better guide at this end about what sort of projects they could be working on.”
Benedict Rogers, co-founder of Hong Kong Watch and the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, also believes it’s neither practical nor desirable to impose a blanket ban as students “shouldn’t be penalised or discriminated against solely on the basis of their nationality,” but said “much stronger background checks are needed, and universities should be more careful about offering places in certain disciplines.”
In an email to The Epoch Times, Rogers said it should be “no problem, and might even be beneficial” to offer Chinese students places in humanities programmes, “but certain areas of the sciences and technology might merit some restrictions because we should not be transferring knowledge, wittingly or unwittingly, in sensitive areas where such knowledge may one day be used against us through espionage, hacking, military purposes, or in other ways.”
Rogers also called for the UK to be “much more cautious about research relationships between UK and Chinese institutions.”