A Texas A&M professor and NASA research team leader was arrested Sunday and charged with having hidden connections to Chinese state-owned enterprises and government programming, according to the Department of Justice.
Zhengdong Cheng allegedly received funding and accessed sensitive information about NASA projects on the basis of false information he submitted to his university and NASA regarding his relationship with Beijing-backed institutions. One such institution, the Thousand Talents Program, has faced accusations of intellectual property theft.
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"Once again, we have witnessed the criminal consequences that can arise from undisclosed participation in the Chinese government’s talent program," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. "Professor Cheng allegedly made false statements to his university and to NASA regarding his affiliations with the Chinese government. The Department of Justice will continue seeking to bring participation in these talent programs to light and to expose the exploitation of our nation and our prized research institutions."
While China has frequently engaged in intellectual property theft—one in five corporations say they have been robbed by the country—recent months have seen especially pernicious action by Chinese agents on campuses and in aerospace research. The Thousand Talents Program is an effort by the Chinese Communist Party to consolidate and encourage international efforts in scientific advancement to advance the party's interests. Multiple countries have warned that the program uses their domestic innovations for the CCP's military ends without proper credit or compensation.
The Thousand Talents Program, combined with Confucius Institute chapters on college campuses, has allowed the PRC to reap the benefits of American-led innovation in STEM research. Until earlier this month, when the White House declared them foreign missions, Confucius Institutes were able to exploit their proximity to American research with little abridgment, leading to theft on China’s behalf by Chinese-born researchers and American professors alike.
Chinese intellectual property theft, in the interest of developing a space program that attempts to rival American supremacy in space, often targets advanced American satellite and rocket technology. China now has the second-largest orbital satellite fleet and regularly collaborates with Russia to weaken American influence in space.
"China is building an economy and academic institutions with bricks stolen from others all around the world," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Ryan K. Patrick. "While 1.4 million foreign researchers and academics are here in the U.S. for the right reasons, the Chinese Talents Program exploits our open and free universities. These conflicts must be disclosed, and we will hold those accountable when such conflict violates the law."