A new book by David Zweig

Forthcoming next summer from the Asia Shorts Series of the Association for Asian Studies, distributed by Columbia University Press

One way to overcome the deleterious “brain drain” is the “Diaspora Option,” whereby developing states mobilize their overseas nationals to use the knowledge and skills learned abroad to help their motherland develop without them returning fulltime. In the mid-1990s, China’s hope for a “reverse brain drain” of overseas scientists, academics and entrepreneurs stalled. So, in 2001, Jiang Zemin introduced China’s Diaspora Option, labelled, “serving the country” (为国服务) without “returning to the country” (回国服务). The Party/State’s vigorous efforts have included an array of programs to encourage ethnic Chinese living abroad to transfer their knowledge to China to strengthen the country. Institutions, such as hospitals, universities, research institutes, companies, and high-tech zones, see overseas talent as carriers of new technologies that enhance their domestic and foreign competitiveness. Many Mainland-born Chinese working abroad complied with the invitations, some to strengthen their former homeland, others from self-interest.

In 2018, the Trump Administration declared war on China’s efforts to access this information through a McCarthy-like (or even Maoist-like) campaign called the “China Initiative.” This book documents the U.S. government’s counterattack, and its efforts to limit the transfer of U.S. technology to China. The case studies include stories of several unknown victims of that campaign which show the downside of this initiative. It also highlights the harm the war over this talent has brought to Sino-American scientific collaboration and the education of Chinese students in America.

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