In an undated post on the website of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR, 中國現代國際關係研究院), the former director of the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS, 中國社會科學院) Institute of Taiwan Studies (ITS, 台灣研究所), Yang Mingjie (楊明杰), was featured as its new president. As is routine practice with personnel changes in Chinese intelligence organs, there was no official public announcement of Yang’s appointment. Yang served as director of CASS-ITS for six years from 2017, and his transfer to CICIR was formalized between late June—when Yang was still using his title as director of ITS for public functions—and in early July, which is when he first appeared on CICIR’s website in the new post. The appointment of someone with hands-on proximate Taiwan experience at the top of the CICIR is noteworthy for several reasons—not least for the fact that Yang now heads one of the white gloves of the Ministry of State Security (MSS, 國家安全部) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
CICIR and CASS-ITS both share intelligence research and analysis functions as they relate to Taiwan affairs in the Chinese policy system. Both organizations are believed to be affiliated with the MSS—the PRC’s premier intelligence agency—and personnel at these two organizations represent key vectors in the PRC’s Taiwan intelligence collection and analysis system on Taiwan. Whereas CICIR is widely known as the white glove of the MSS, CASS-ITS has never been confirmed by authoritative sources to be linked with the MSS, although recent appointments highlighting those connections are making the association clearer. Indeed, according to some Taiwan sources, ITS is believed to be subordinate to the MSS, and the institute’s funding, as well as staff, are reportedly provided by the MSS. At least one previous director of CASS-ITS, Jiang Dianming (姜殿銘), was alleged by an uncorroborated source to have served as the director of the 15th Bureau of the MSS.
The Role of CICIR
CICIR has a broader portfolio than Taiwan, but it still maintains a specialized focus. According to an assessment (albeit one relatively dated) published by the Central Intelligence Agency’s then-Open Source Center, a “survey of CICIR’s published work demonstrates that while the institute’s research covers the gamut of global affairs, its foremost focus is the United States and the Sino-US relationship.” A cursory survey of recent leadership areas of focus and publications indicates continuity, rather than change, from this orientation.
While the main thrust of its research activities clearly focuses on the United States, CICIR has a center focused on Taiwan affairs. The CICIR’s Center for Taiwan Studies (涉台事務研究中心) has three main research areas: Taiwan-related issues in international relations, US-Taiwan relations, Japan-Taiwan relations. The center currently has three staff members listed on its website: the center’s director, Xie Yu (謝郁), previously served as the director of the CASS-ITS Policy Office (政治研究室). Guo Yongjun (郭擁軍) is its executive director, and Huo Jiangang (霍建崗), the center’s deputy director, had been an associate research fellow at CICIR’s Institute for Japan Studies as recently as 2022.
A Revolving Door between CICIR and MSS
Underscoring the intimate relationship between CICIR and MSS, the former president, Yuan Peng (袁鹏), is believed to have taken a senior management position in the MSS as its deputy minister as recently as February of this year. A well-known US hand, Yuan served as president of CICIR beginning sometime after 2018. A media report in February 2023 speculated that Yuan may have changed his name to Yuan Yikun (袁亦鯤), and that he had been transferred over to serve as deputy minister of the MSS. Yuan’s alleged appointment has not been independently verified; however, the practice of CICIR presidents being transferred to leadership posts at the MSS has occurred in at least two other instances in the past. Both Geng Huichang (耿惠昌), a former MSS minister (2007-16), and Lu Zhongwei (陸忠偉), a former deputy minister (2011-12), served as president at CICIR before taking on official posts at the MSS. 
The Role of CASS-ITS
Unlike Yang’s two predecessors when he took up the role as director of ITS in 2017—Yang’s previous focus had been primarily on arms control and Asia-Pacific security—he was relatively unknown in the Taiwan-watching community.  It was telling at the time that Beijing decided to put an international arms control expert from one of its intelligence organs into a nominally academic post to focus exclusively on Taiwan. The appointment, which broke with precedent, suggested that the PRC was shifting its approach to Taiwan analyses. It is even more telling now that Yang has been transferred back to the much larger CICIR, which possesses greater authority and significantly more resources. Overall, it would appear to reflect the prioritization of Taiwan in the PRC’s intelligence collection and analysis.
According to media reports, the long-serving deputy director of the institute, Zhu Weidong (朱衛東), will replace Yang as the head of CASS-ITS. Zhu has been serving as the institute’s deputy director since at least 2014. A seasoned Taiwan hand in the PRC’s Taiwan policy community, Zhu graduated from Renmin University in 1989 with a specialization in law. He held numerous research-focused postings at the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council (國務院台灣事務辦公室), as well as several institutes focused on Taiwan at other research institutions. Zhu also served on the board of the National Society of Taiwan Research (NSTR, 全國臺灣研究會), and as a standing committee member of the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association (中國戰略文化促進會)—which is associated with the Chinese political warfare and united front system—among other positions (see here and here).
It is worth noting that when Yang’s predecessor relinquished his previous post, Zhou Zhihuai (周志懷) retained his other title as the executive vice president and secretary-general of NSTR.  The association is part of the united front system, and is comprised of academics researching Taiwan across the PRC. The NSTR’s current president Wang Yifu (汪毅夫) has served in that position since 2020. Wang was considered a “key adviser on Taiwan affairs when Xi Jinping was governor of Fujian from 1999.” It appears now that Yang will retain his position as vice president at NSTR. His dual-hatted role as both the head of a known intelligence organization, as well as the NSTR, could place the activities of the NSTR beyond those of the traditional united front function it has traditionally served—thereby further contributing to the blurring of seams between united front and intelligence operations that have taken place in the past decade under Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨) General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平).
Yang’s return to CICIR to head the institution reflects a continuation of the broadening of the PRC’s intelligence collection and analysis efforts on Taiwan. While previous presidents of CICIR all specialized primarily in the United States, Yang would be the first president who has focused on Taiwan work (although he was academically trained in the United States). In light of the close relationship between CICIR and MSS, by appointing the recent ITS director as CICIR president Beijing is focusing its intelligence collection capabilities and honing them on Taiwan. While CICIR has not traditionally emphasized Taiwan, that appears to be changing. To be sure, it is worth noting that, relative to CASS-ITS, the CICIR’s research capacity on Taiwan is less well-resourced given its broad focus. Therefore the appointment of Yang, fresh off of six years at ITS, would presumably put someone in charge who can prioritize the resources of the organization in more relevant and timely ways on the Taiwan issue.
The main point: The recent appointment of Yang Mingjie to serve as the director of both the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, and the Chinese Academy of Social Science Institute of Taiwan Studies, could indicate closer coordination at a senior level between the PRC intelligence and united front systems in regards to Taiwan-related issues.
 It is telling that Geng now serves as vice chairman of the Liaison with Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a key organization overseeing the CCP’s United Front system.
 It was customary that the deputy director of ITS would take the post of CASS-ITR director when the director steps down, so it ought to be noted that Yang’s appointment as the director of ITS broke with precedent, which indicated a shift in the PRC’s approach to Taiwan analyses.
 Zhou now serves as the deputy director of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification’s Scholarly Research Commission” (中國和平統一促進會學習研究委員會), an entity directly subordinate to the CCP’s United Front Work Department. See, e.g., http://www.zhongguotongcuhui.org.cn/hnyw/202203/t20220304_12416472.html.