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Taiwan to crack down on unauthorized research collaborations with mainland China

Fears about a brain drain have prompted Taiwan to look more closely at the mainland talent-recruitment programme.

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Taiwan appears to be tightening its grip on researchers who get funding from mainland China out of concerns that it may be losing talent and intellectual property to the mainland.

According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, the island’s government is investigating seven researchers for allegedly joining a prestigious programme sponsored by the mainland China government to lure academics to the mainland without the necessary permissions.

Although the Council for Mainland Affairs, which manages Taiwan’s relationship with the mainland, refused to comment on this directly to Nature, it did say that it was increasingly monitoring the mainland’s attempts to attract Taiwan’s high-tech talent and industrial technology.

It also said Taiwan’s cabinet, the Executive Yuan, has directed its Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) to send letters to universities, research and education institutions to remind their staff that they need permission to participate in major research programmes, such as the Thousand Talents Plan, or receive mainland China government funds.

Since 2008, the Thousand Talents Plan has recruited thousands of Chinese and international engineers and scientists to work in mainland China. But in the past year, it has also caught the attention of governments such as that of the United States, which are worried that some participants may be in breach of local regulations.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency has reported that if scientists referred to the Mainland Affairs Council are found to have shared intellectual property from their MOST-funded research with the mainland without approval, MOST may try to recoup the money it contributed, according to the news agency. MOST did not respond to Nature’s requests for comment.

The council said in a statement to Nature that Taiwan supports academic exchanges with the mainland and there have been no recent policy changes in that regard. But it added that government agencies in Taiwan will review and strengthen policies to protect sensitive research and important intellectual property from being lost to mainland China.

Taiwan’s government is not the only body concerned about losing its intellectual property through research endeavours. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been investigating the researchers it funds for not disclosing overseas funding sources, having undisclosed ties with foreign agencies, participating in programmes such as China’s Thousand Talents Plan, or distributing confidential information overseas. Several universities have moved to dismiss researchers of Chinese ethnicity for alleging failing to report funding and connections to institutions in China. Some of the researchers have publicly disputed the claims.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01982-1

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