The FBI has detected and prosecuted an increasing number of cases involving Chinese economic espionage and illegal activity on American soil. The Chinese government denies its involvement in such operations, insisting it is a good faith partner with the United States.
But that narrative doesn’t hold up against scrutiny.
Strike Source conducted an OSINT investigation into how China targets post-doctoral researchers for recruitment. The investigation started with a LinkedIn job ad in Mandarin asking for AI and cybersecurity expertise.
The Digital Security Innovation Center (DSIC) created the post for applicants in Florida. The DSIC is a branch of the Zhejiang University Jiaxing Research Institute, which focuses on cutting-edge technology, digital security, and artificial intelligence.
The ad states the research direction for the center is to create an “all-dimensional digital security enabling platform [covering] comprehensive digital security research fields, including cryptography, data security, artificial intelligence security, software and hardware security, Internet of Things security, etc.”
The ad further reads that to apply for the position, candidates need to have a “doctoral degree” and formal teaching or scientific research experience at an overseas university, scientific research institution, or corporate research/development institution.
As of the writing of this article, one person in the Tampa Bay area has applied for the job.
The LinkedIn ad correlates with a job ad that was posted by Zhejiang University Jiaxing Research Institute in late January on a Chinese higher education website. Strike Source notes that this specific ad welcomes “overseas scholars” and “non-Chinese foreign talents” to apply to work at the Institute.
Analysts note that the language in the ad closely mirrors a Chinese recruitment initiative known as Thousand Talents.
There are various “talent” programs in China, but the Thousand Talents Program is the most famous in the U.S. The programs generally recruit highly skilled and educated individuals to enter into a contract with a Chinese university or company in exchange for financial, personal, or professional benefits.
Additionally, our research found that professors in the DSIC at Zhejiang University have professional and personal relationships with many members of the U.S. academic community. These U.S. professors have coauthored papers and cochaired speeches with their Chinese counterparts on topics directly related to digital security such as device to device (D2D) mesh networking, encryption, ubiquitous networking/computing, and power regulation.
Zhejiang University Jiaxing Research Institute
Zhejiang University Jiaxing Research Institute has ties with entities that are a national security risk, primarily the 36th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), the Beijing Institute of Technology, and China Mobile Ltd.
This month, the 36th Research Institute and Beijing Institute of Technology attended a closed job fair for overseas high-level talent with multiple organizations, which included the Zhejiang University Jiaxing Research Institute. The 36th Research Institute is a subordinate institution of CETC, and is involved in military science, weapons development, and other technological pursuits.
China’s Ministry of Technology and Information supervises Beijing Institute of Technology, and is known as one of China’s Seven Sons of National Defense. The Beijing Institute of Technology has direct ties to the People’s Liberation Army and has helped develop multiple weapons systems for the Chinese military.
In January 2022, China Mobile signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Institute, entailing an in-depth data security and cybersecurity partnership. In March 2022, the FCC declared China Mobile a threat to “national security.”
In July 2022, the Institute signed contracts with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd., Beijing Venus Information Technology Co., Ltd., and Zheguang Media Co. to establish a “digital security joint laboratory” and contained artificial intelligence lab.
The dean of Zhejiang University Jiaxing Research Institute is Gao Xiang, also a Chinese Academy of Engineering fellow. The Chinese Academy of Engineering is a prestigious scientific institution that elects a select number of fellows per year. Gao also studied abroad as a visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo in Japan and University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
In addition, he has been in the engineering field since 1986 and was also recognized for his contribution to China’s Ten Thousand Talents Plan, which provides government support to world-class scientists in the country. Candidates awarded support have to be of a good moral character and deeply committed to the Chinese Communist Party’s political objectives.
Our OSINT research shows that the Institute procured a high-frequency sweeping laser in February 2023.
The purchasing agency for the laser, Zhejiang Qiushi Tendering Agency Co., Ltd, procures cutting-edge technology and benign materials for over 200 government entities and many universities in the Zhejiang province. The purchasing agency has also acquired mid-infrared lasers, inertial systems, and mid-infrared spectrometers for the Institute.
So far, there has been no effective disruption of Chinese recruitment of U.S. academia as a whole. We assess that the Institute will continue to build relationships in the United States on sensitive issues like AI, cybersecurity, and encryption. These relationships could potentially be used to exploit sensitive information and U.S. trade secrets.
China will continue its recruitment efforts, which pose a risk to both national security and American technological prowess. In addition, with current tensions between the U.S. and China, the Institute could be used to further China’s national security objectives. It’s also important to note that while the procurement of these advanced devices initially appears non-threatening, it is feasible to assume that they could also be used for military application in the future.
The type of high speed scanning laser would suggest that this is aimed at determining shape and topography of a surface or it’s chemical composition. This may have some remote monitoring applications including FLIR (forward looking infrared) and remote sensing. In combination with inertial systems this would suggest a kind of guidance system.
The Institute’s recruitment of technical specialists supports Chinese capability to produce domestic cutting-edge technology in furtherance of its “Made in China 2025” plan to dominate high-tech manufacturing. This program will enable China to increasingly challenge U.S. technical superiority in critical fields of research.