Beijing Claims 72 Taiwan Nationals Participating in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan”
In an interesting revelation, the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) State Council—which is the central government agency in charge of implementing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policy towards Taiwan—disclosed that there are currently more Taiwan nationals participating in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan” (千人計畫) than the Taiwan government reportedly previously estimated. On November 27, the TAO held a press conference to explain the results of the recently announced 26 preferential economic measures and its 31 antecedents released February 2018. In referring to the “Thousand Talents Plan,” which Western intelligence agencies believe facilitates the theft of intellectual property from other countries, TAO spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮) revealed that there are currently 72 experts and scholars from Taiwan who are part of the program. The figure provided by TAO is nearly double a previous estimate in the Taiwan media that reportedly cited Taiwan government data. In response, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC)—the cabinet level agency in charge of cross-Strait policy—stated that TAO claims have not been verified and that it is investigating the matter.
In 2008, China launched the “Overseas High-level Talent Recruitment Plan” (海外高層次人才引進計畫) (also known as the “Thousand Talents Plan”), which aims to recruit foreign and overseas Chinese professionals to help China develop key technologies, high-tech industries, and emerging disciplines. According to the staff report “Threats to the US Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans” prepared by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations:
… China has created and manages more than 200 talent recruitment plans …. China designed the Thousand Talents Plan to recruit 2,000 high-quality overseas talents, including scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and finance experts. The plan provides salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives to lure experts into researching for China. According to one report, by 2017, China dramatically exceeded its recruitment goal, having recruited more than 7,000 “high-end professionals,” including several Nobel laureates.
The “Thousand Talents Plan” has come under greater scrutiny by national security officials worldwide as a channel that the Chinese government is using to recruit foreign scientists, engineers, and other researchers with specialized skills to help support the CCP’s ambitious economic, industrial, and military modernization goals. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has listed thousands of scholars as the focus of investigation, and Chinese scientists who have been included in the project have been arrested for spying.
According to a previous media report citing Taiwan government data covered in an earlier brief, there have only been 33 known cases of Taiwan nationals who have been recruited under the “Thousand Talents Plan.” As noted in the Hoover-Asia Society study, “[i]n many cases, these individuals do not disclose receiving the TTP money to their employer, which for US government employees is illegal and for corporate personnel likely represents a conflict of interest that violates their employee agreement.” It is reasonable to assume that there is an underreporting of people receiving these funds and that the Taiwan government’s estimate was conservative at best. For instance, as a previous brief documented, the Chinese government is also known for using intermediaries such as headhunting organizations to recruit both potential assets and unsuspecting researchers in Taiwan.
The MAC pointed out how China’s recent efforts to usurp scientific research talents through the “Thousand Talents Plan” have aroused the concern of European and American countries; and relevant agencies in Taiwan are reviewing and strengthening safeguard measures and laws to guard against China’s theft of sensitive scientific research and intellectual property. For instance, both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology have issued guidance in accordance with policy directives from the Executive Yuan to public and private scientific research institutions, universities and colleges, full-time teachers and related personnel, and key R&D projects. According to MAC, the Executive Yuan has also formed an ad hoc group and instructed both ministries to collect relevant information in order to clarify whether there are reports of current members of the teaching staff and scientific research personnel participating in the “Thousand Talents Plan” and whether there are any violations of the relevant provisions of cross-Strait regulations.
The main point: The Chinese government claims that there are currently 72 experts and scholars from Taiwan who are part of the program. The figure provided by TAO is nearly double the previous estimate in the Taiwan media that reportedly cited Taiwan government data.
Note: A previous brief referred to the “Thousand Talents Plan” as the “Thousand Talents Program.” The two usages refer to the same initiative.
Reshuffling in Taiwan’s Political Warfare System
The director for the Political Warfare Bureau at the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ministry of National Defense (MND), Lieutenant General Chien Shih-wei (簡士偉), has been in his current position for only several months. Chien replaced Lieutenant General Huang Kai-sen (黃開森), who retired at the end of August and had served in that position for less than a year before his retirement. Chien previously served as the political warfare director for the Taiwan Army. The position left vacant by Jian’s promotion has been filled by Major General Yang An (楊安), who served as the director of Fu Hsing Kang College (國防大學政治作戰學院, Political Warfare Cadres Academy) at National Defense University (NDU)—the military’s premier political warfare academy for training military officers in this increasingly important discipline. The appointments set off a chain of reassignments within Taiwan’s political warfare system.
According to a Taiwan media report, the number of senior military leaders from the Taiwan military’s political warfare system (e.g., those who graduated from the NDU’s FHK) has been decreasing in recent years. Currently, the only billet filled by someone with a military rank of lieutenant general from the political warfare system is the director for the Political Warfare Bureau (PWB, 政治作戰局). In 2013, during a period of significant thaw in overt political friction in the Taiwan Strait under the previous Ma Ying-jeou administration, the organization underwent substantial reorganization and was apparently downgraded from a department-level unit to a bureau-level unit. The position of director—which was previously held by someone with the rank of general—was replaced by a lieutenant general.
Moreover, the current highest-ranking military leaders who rose from the political warfare system within Taiwan are now those who graduated from the military academy in the mid-1970s. For instance, Jian graduated from the class of 74 (年班), while Yang—his successor—graduated the class of 75. Major generals who graduated from around the same class years include former Reserve Command Director Major General Hsieh Ming-te (謝明德, class of 75) and Deputy Commander of Army Command Major General Chao Tai-chuan (趙代川, class of 75), Dean of the Political Warfare Academy Major General Wen Tien-yu (文天佑, class of 76), and Commander of the Eighth Army Corps, Major General Wu Li-wen (武立文, class of 76). With ranks no higher than lieutenant general and with most reaching major generals—there is also a heavy representation of the Army in the system.
Prior to Army Lieutenant General Huang Kai-sen, the head of the PWB was Navy Vice Admiral Wen Zhen-guo (聞振國; b. 1958), who became director in late 2015. Wen served for nearly three years in that position and retired in November 2018. Wen is the first sailor to serve in the position since the rank of the military officer holding the position was lowered in 2013. The current deputy director of the PWB is Air Force Major General Yu Qin-wen (于親文). Yu has been in that position since September 2017. According to observers, the decision to have an airman serve as deputy director is part of a broader ongoing effort under the Tsai administration to rebalance the representation of the three services ostensibly for countering Chinese political warfare activities. Since the unit’s reorganization in 1963 when it was renamed as the Political Warfare Bureau, the unit did not have an air force officer in a senior leadership position.
The broader political warfare system has been undergoing related planning for personnel adjustments as Major General Hsieh, the head of political warfare for the PLA Reserve Command, also retired on December 1. According to a list obtained and reported on by the local media, the post of political warfare director for the Reserve Command is expected to be filled by Chao Tai-chuan, the deputy director of political warfare of the Army Command, whose position will be filled by Wu Li-wen, the director of political warfare of the 8th Army Corps. The post of political warfare director of the Army 8 Corps is expected to be taken over Chen Chong-ji, the political warfare director of the Army Logistics Command.
Additionally, the dean of FHKC, Major General Wen Tien-yu, is expected to be transferred to the post of director for political warfare at National Defense University. The college and the political warfare bureau are two separate entities. Major General Chen Yulin (陳育琳), director for political warfare of the 6th Army Corps, will be transferred to serve as dean of FHKC, becoming the first female dean of the political warfare college. Yu Hsi-ming (余熙明), the political warfare director of the Reserve Command, is scheduled to take over as director of the political warfare of the 6th Army Corps. The list obtained by Taiwan media also points out that Major General Lou Wei-chieh (樓偉傑), director of the cultural propaganda division (文化宣教處長) of the PWD, will take over as director of the Reserve Command. And after MND Financial Service Center Political Warfare Director Tang Mingde (唐明德) is to take over as the director of Political Warfare at the Matsu Defense Command, the incumbent Gu Lidu (辜麗都) will be transferred to the position of director of political warfare of the Army Logistics Command.
The PWB is the country’s premier military unit designed to counter communist influence operations directed primarily against Taiwan’s military. The PWB had its genesis in the early days of the Whampoa Military Academy (黃埔軍校) established in 1924. In 1950, the name of the unit was changed from the Political Work Bureau (政工局) to Political Department (政治部) under the Ministry of National Defense, and a year later elevated to the General Political Department (總政治部). In August 1963—at the height of cross-Strait military tensions—the name of the unit was modified to the General Political Warfare Department (總政治作戰部).
Since the 1980s after the opening up of the Taiwan Strait, the PWD’s mission atrophied as cross-Strait ties improved and the objectives of political warfare become muddled and were no longer clearly defined. While the PLA continued its political warfare, the PWD suffered setback after setback as retired generals were heavily courted by CCP United Front activities, among other reasons.
The setback that perhaps best captured this troubling trend is the one of Hsu Li-nong (許歷農; b. 1918), a retired general who formerly served as director of the PWD from 1983 to 1987. Hsu was responsible for countering communist ideology and psychological warfare but turned into a vocal advocate for unification with the PRC after his retirement. In a strange twist of fate, last year, the retired general issued a public letter urging the two sides to issue a communiqué stating that there is only “One China in the world, Taiwan and ‘mainland’ are a part of China, China’s territory and sovereignty brook no division” (世界上祇有一個中國，台灣和大陸都是中國的一部分，中國的領土、主權不容分割). Hsu also said that the two sides should support each other economically and militarily, as well as jointly participate in political and diplomatic activities.
While the recent personnel changes within the Taiwan military’s political warfare system appears to be routine, the cycle of reshuffling within the system seems to point to a systematic problem in a shortage of senior brass to lead planning, training, and execution of the military’s political warfare strategy. Leveraging the assets of these psychological warriors should be par for the course for engaging in intense gray zone competition with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—especially in the political sphere. The appearance of this challenge at the top of the also raises questions about whether there are enough mid-level professionals to fill in the ranks and billets.
The main point: The reshuffling within Taiwan military’s political warfare systems appears routine but may point to a shortage of senior brass and those rising in the tanks to lead political warfare work within the military.