March 23, 2023

China Seen in Push to Gain Technology Insights

But not all the cutting edge developments may be the result of indigenous innovation, according to American prosecutors, who last month charged three Chinese scientists at the New York University School of Medicine with taking bribes to share research findings with their real employers: the Shenzhen institute and a separate Shanghai medical technology company.

Though considerable attention has been focused on Chinese cyberespionage efforts, the institute is at the vanguard of a related push to bolster China’s competitiveness by acquiring overseas technology directly from Chinese scientists working in the United States and other developed countries, say American officials and analysts. Those scientists are heavily recruited to return to China or, in some instances, to share their knowledge while remaining overseas, according to the federal court case and a book released last month by three experts who do China research for the United States government.

In advance of a summit meeting in California later this week between President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, the two countries agreed to hold regular meetings on the issues of cybersecurity and commercial espionage. But there is no sign yet of what those discussions might accomplish.

The authors of the new book, “Chinese Industrial Espionage,” say that technology transfer is an official policy at all levels of the Communist Party and the state. It often takes place in a legal gray area, since laws governing technology transfer can be vague or nonexistent. The authors warn that the United States and other nations need to acknowledge the extent of the Chinese campaign, which they say far exceeds those of other countries and threatens American competitiveness.

They contend that the scale of China’s efforts to gather overseas technology is so immense that the National Counterintelligence Executive, a federal agency, has considered issuing separate annual reports each year: one for China and one for the rest of the world.

“China is in a different league altogether, exceeding the international norm not just in scale, the number and variety of transfer venues, the moral agnosticism of its practitioners, and the degree of government support,” the authors, William C. Hannas, James Mulvenon and Anna B. Puglisi, said in written answers to questions. “It’s an entire mind-set.”

China’s strategies range from setting up science parks for Chinese returnees to persuading foreign companies to open research centers in China, they said.

A private intelligence company in the Washington area, Defense Group Inc., which employs Mr. Mulvenon, says the government-financed center that the N.Y.U. scientists are accused of being part of, the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, recruits overseas Chinese with technical knowledge and “has sought to develop collaborative relationships with foreign companies and research organizations which display high potential for technology transfer.”

A spokeswoman for the Shenzhen center said it was investigating the accusations in the N.Y.U. case. A lawyer for Yudong Zhu, an associate professor in the N.Y.U. radiology department and the lead scientist charged, said the government “has drawn some erroneous conclusions from some of the evidence they have observed” and that Mr. Zhu did not work for the Shanghai company.

The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property concluded in May that technology theft amounted to a loss of more than $300 billion a year, the equivalent of total annual United States exports to Asia. “Virtually every sector and technology is attacked,” the commission said.

“National industrial policy goals in China encourage IP theft, and an extraordinary number of Chinese in business and government entities are engaged in this practice,” said the report by the commission, which was led by Dennis C. Blair, a former director of national intelligence, and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a former ambassador to China.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the State Council, China’s cabinet, declined to comment for this article. In early May, the Commerce Ministry denied accusations by the United States Trade Representative that China was weak on enforcing intellectual property rights. “The Chinese government attaches great importance to intellectual property protection and has made great progress in areas like intellectual property legislation and enforcement,” it said.

Cases like the one at N.Y.U. of overseas Chinese scientists and scholars accused of secretly transferring technical information are considered rare, especially given that the number of Chinese students going abroad reached 400,000 last year. But the growing emphasis in the United States on technology theft by China has made some Chinese-Americans and overseas Chinese fearful of undue persecution. They point to the fiasco of the Wen Ho Lee case, in which a Chinese-American scientist was wrongly accused by federal officials of stealing classified nuclear-related documents.

Edward Wong reported from Shenzhen and Beijing, and Didi Kirsten Tatlow reported from Beijing. Patrick Zuo contributed research from Beijing.

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News Analysis: In China, Discontent Among the Normally Faithful

A widening discontent was evident this month in the anticensorship street protests in the southern city of Guangzhou and in the online outrage that exploded over an extraordinary surge in air pollution in the north. Anger has also reached a boil over fears concerning hazardous tap water and over a factory spill of 39 tons of a toxic chemical in Shanxi Province that has led to panic in nearby cities.

For years, many China observers have asserted that the party’s authoritarian system endures because ordinary Chinese buy into a grand bargain: the party guarantees economic growth, and in exchange the people do not question the way the party rules. Now, many whose lives improved under the boom are reneging on their end of the deal, and in ways more vocal than ever before. Their ranks include billionaires and students, movie stars and homemakers.

Few are advocating an overthrow of the party. Many just want the system to provide a more secure life. But in doing so, they are demanding something that challenges the very nature of the party-controlled state: transparency.

More and more Chinese say they distrust the Wizard-of-Oz-style of control the Communist Party has exercised since it seized power in 1949, and they are asking their leaders to disseminate enough information so they can judge whether officials, who are widely believed to be corrupt, are doing their jobs properly. Without open information and discussion, they say, citizens cannot tell whether officials are delivering on basic needs.

“Chinese people want freedom of speech,” said Xiao Qinshan, 46, a man in a wheelchair at the Guangzhou protests.

China’s new leadership under Xi Jinping, who took over as general secretary of the party in November, is already feeling the pressure of these calls. Mr. Xi has announced a campaign against corruption, and propaganda officials, in a somewhat surprising move, allowed the state news media to run in-depth reports on the air pollution last week. Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor, said he believed that the leaders had decided “to face the problems.”

Some Chinese say that they and their compatriots, especially younger ones, are starting to realize that a secure life is dependent on the defense of certain principles, perhaps most crucially freedom of expression, and not just on the government meeting material needs. If a ruling party cannot police itself, then people want outsiders, like independent journalists, to do so.

Proof of that can be seen in the wild popularity of microblogs in which ordinary citizens frustrated by corruption post photographs of officials who wear expensive wristwatches. It was evident, too, when hundreds of ordinary people rallied in Guangzhou to defend Southern Weekend, a newspaper known for investigative reporting, against censorship.

“What’s interesting is that these protests were not over a practical issue but over a conceptual issue,” Hung Huang, a news media and fashion entrepreneur, said in a telephone interview. “People are beginning to understand these values are important to a better life, and beginning to understand that unless we all accept the same universal values, things will never really get better.”

Ms. Hung also said, though, that most Chinese were “very practical,” and that calls to action here were “very, very far away” from the kind of revolutionary fervor that had gripped the Arab world.

The Guangzhou rallies were fueled by an outpouring of support on the Internet for Southern Weekend, where journalists were protesting recent censorship rules. Celebrity gadflies with big followings among China’s 564 million Internet users urged the journalists onward. They included Yao Chen, a young actress who quoted the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in an online post, and Ms. Hung, who changed the logo on her microblog to that of Southern Weekend, also known as Southern Weekly. They ran risks by voicing their support; security officers reportedly interrogated some of the outspoken celebrities.

On the air pollution issue, prominent commentators have also taken to the virtual ramparts. Among those leading the calls for change is Pan Shiyi, a real estate tycoon. Mr. Pan’s demands that the government publicly release data on levels of PM 2.5, a potentially deadly particulate matter, contributed to an official decision that 74 cities would start reporting that information this year.

These elites are not just speaking to one another; they are also giving voice to widespread concerns among the middle class. Last Monday, in the middle of the record air pollution spike, there were 6.9 million mentions on a popular microblog platform of the term “Beijing air,” 6.7 million of “air quality” and 4.8 million of “PM 2.5.”

“It’s like never before, this consensus,” said Li Bo, director of Friends of Nature, an environmental advocacy group. “It took us so long to reach this consensus that China’s problems with the environment are rather serious.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting. Mia Li, Amy Qin and Shi Da contributed research.

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Changing of the Guard: Change at Top of China’s Elite Political Committee

But the proposal by Chinese leaders to downsize the body, the Politburo Standing Committee, offers one of the clearest windows available into the priorities of the party and the mechanics of power-sharing and factional struggles as the leadership transition nears its climax at a weeklong congress scheduled to open Nov. 8.

The deliberations have taken place in private, in guarded compounds in Beijing and beachside villas east of the capital, but interviews with political insiders paint a portrait of party leaders pushing the change to maximize their holds on power while trying to steer the top echelons of the party away from the sclerosis and cronyism that has set in as more interests have become represented at the top.

Party insiders and political analysts say party leaders, including Hu Jintao, the current party chief and president, and Xi Jinping, his designated successor, are at the moment sticking to an earlier decision to shrink the committee to seven seats, which was the number before 2002, when the committee was expanded in last-minute deal-making before that year’s party congress.

“All the signs and information indicate that this time the standing committee will have seven members,” said Chen Ziming, a well-connected political commentator in Beijing who was imprisoned after the 1989 pro-democracy protests. “I think the goal is to increase the efficiency and unity at the top level. Everything is decided in meetings, and with fewer people it’s easier to reach decisions.”

The committee is a group of aging men with dyed hair and dark suits who make all major decisions about the economy, foreign policy and other issues. Their meetings are not publicized in the state news media. The party chief often presides, but they operate by consensus, which means decisions are generally made only when the members reach agreement.

They also must solicit the input of retired members, now more than a dozen, who at times exert considerable influence, most of all Mr. Hu’s 86-year-old predecessor, Jiang Zemin. Mr. Jiang and other elders are deeply engaged in the backstage negotiations to appoint the next generation of leaders.

Members of the committee represent different patronage networks and hold different portfolios — security, propaganda, the economy and so on — which can result in competing interests. Business lobbies are represented informally on the committee, and the members often have longstanding ties to China’s powerful state-owned enterprises; for example, the current chief of domestic security, Zhou Yongkang, once managed a state-owned oil company and is known to be a defender of the oil industry.

“Each of the nine wants to protect his patch,” said a political analyst connected to central party officials.

Alice L. Miller, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Hoover Institution, said at a recent talk in Washington that a shrinking of the committee represents an attempt by the party to address shortcomings. “The most compelling one is that there seems to be a trend in policy stagnation,” she said, “an inability to arrive at decisions collectively within the standing committee that I think shows up in a number of different ways.”

Yet the move to trim the committee, many experts argue, has exacerbated factional wrangling over its incoming membership. Mr. Xi and Li Keqiang, pegged to be the next prime minister, are virtually guaranteed seats. Other favorites now are Zhang Dejiang, a vice prime minister and party secretary of Chongqing; Wang Qishan, another vice prime minister; Zhang Gaoli, party chief of Tianjin; and Liu Yunshan, director of the propaganda bureau. With that lineup, the remaining seat is expected to go to either Li Yuanchao, head of the Organization Department, or Yu Zhengsheng, party chief of Shanghai. Both had been strong contenders until recent weeks, when word spread that either could be excluded.

The idea of shrinking the committee was first laid out in discussions in the summer of 2011, but it did not emerge as a plan until this year, said a central government media official with ties to “princeling” families from the Communist aristocracy of revolutionary leaders and their descendants.

“The entire top echelon came to a unified viewpoint on this general direction, including former standing committee members,” he said. “The consensus was that greater unity and efficiency was needed at the top.”

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