Paul van Gerven
24 August 2023

Efforts to ‘encourage’ Chinese techies working in Europe to return to the motherland are exceedingly successful, a US intelligence firm finds.

Over the past 20 years, more than 30,000 employees at European technology companies have moved to China-headquartered firms, according to a study published by Strider Technologies. The findings illustrate the success of Beijing in leveraging talent programs, overseas alumni associations and industry events to extract knowledge and expertise from foreign firms, says the Utah-based outfit that scours open-data sources using AI to produce intelligence reports.

Strider describes the case of Jin Xing, a Chinese national who spent a few years at Imec before getting hired as chief engineer at NXP’s automotive department. Jin worked a decade at the Dutch chipmaker and then moved back to his home country to found Autorock. This automotive-display company is a resounding success: at the 2015 Auto Shanghai exhibition, seven out of 14 new, domestically-produced electric vehicles featured Autorock’s instruments. The company was officially a mere 16 months old at that point.

Jin received “material support” from the Chinese state, Strider contends. In between leaving NXP and founding Autorock, Beijing supported his efforts to monetize “the knowledge and experience in my head” that NXP couldn’t prevent him from taking back to China, according to a comment in Chinese media. Autorock is co-owned by government and government-affiliated organizations.

It doesn’t seem like it was merely an opportunistic move by Jin, either. During his time in Europe, he was an active member of the United Front, an organization that enlists Chinese citizens to further the country’s and the CCP’s strategic goals. Jin played a pivotal role in a United Front subsidiary, the Federation of Chinese Professional Associations in Europe (FCPAE), and he founded one specifically targeting semiconductor technology: the IC-Forum.

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Strider dug up evidence that Jin actively encouraged his fellow countrymen to “serve the country and return to China to start businesses,” he said during a visit of Chinese expats to the Chinese Academy of Sciences Shanghai Institute of Microsystems and Information Technology – an event he organized. Over the years, over 100 IC-Forum members have indeed returned. At least six of them joined Jin when Autorock was still in its embryonic stages; many others now hold key positions in China’s semiconductor industry.

Tally

China still has to make up a lot of territory in the semiconductor industry, an area it considers key to its military and economic goals. As US-led measures to cut off the Middle Kingdom from IC technology and associated manufacturing technologies are implemented, it’s expected that efforts to extract IP and expertise from foreign organizations and workers will be beefed up.

At the same time, few Western technology companies can afford to turn their backs on China and its hordes of talent. Even if they don’t need access to the country’s lower-cost manufacturing opportunities, they want to tap its huge market. To get in, Beijing often mandates partnerships with Chinese organizations. In semiconductors alone, Strider tallied over 3,000 instances of collaboration between top European semiconductor companies and Chinese organizations, some of them state-affiliated, over the past 20 years. Apart from their intrinsic merits, such relationships often facilitate Beijing’s talent programs, Strider writes.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected Strider’s conclusions, stating that “China’s exchange of talent with foreign countries is no different from other countries.”