PHYSICIST LINKED TO CHINA PROGRAM
A noted Chinese-born physicist and Stanford University quantum scientist who died Dec. 1 was linked to Beijing’s major program to corner the world market in key advanced technologies.
Zhang Shoucheng, 55, died in an apparent suicide and had suffered from depression, according to his family.
However, his death came days after a Nov. 30 report by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer linking the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Danhua Capital, which Zhang founded and led, to China’s “Made in China 2025” technology dominance program.
The 2025 program was launched in 2015 and has been cited by the Trump administration to show that Beijing is engaged in a strategic program of stealing American know-how. The program is aimed at helping China dominate world markets in advanced technologies, including aerospace, information and communications technology, robotics, industrial machinery, new materials and automobiles.
Stanford said in a statement that Zhang was involved in quantum physics research related to interacting electrons. The research led to predictions of new phenomena and exotic states of matter. He took part in research on novel materials, quantum gravity and artificial intelligence.
The USTR report said China is using venture capital investment companies, including Danhua, as a new means of securing cutting-edge technologies and intellectual property from the United States. From January to May, Chinese venture capital investment reached nearly $2.4 billion, a record level.
The investment focused on artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality and financial technology.
“Chinese [venture capital] investment in the United States can play a significant role in technology transfer,” the report said.
The Lighthizer report said the Chinese government has created and backed a web of companies in Silicon Valley “to further the industrial policy goals of the Chinese government.”
The investments include funding dozens and in some cases hundreds of startup companies that are then exploited by the venture capital companies to gain access to their information technology. The access gives the companies “the ability to influence and potentially coerce management,” the report said.
According to the report, Zhang’s company Danhua Capital, operating under the name Digital Horizon Capital, was funded by a state-owned Beijing government enterprise called Zhongguancun Development Group (ZDG).
“Other notable Chinese companies with state connections and strong interests in technology also allocated funds to Danhua Capital,” the report said.
They include iFlyTek, a voice recognition company, and BOE Technology Group Co. Ltd. The controlling shareholder of BEO is the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the Beijing municipal government.
“In total, Danhua lists 113 U.S. companies in its portfolio, and most of those companies fall within emerging sectors and technologies (such as biotechnology and AI) that the Chinese government has identified as strategic priorities,” the report said.
Zhang’s family denied social media reports of foul play surrounding the death or that the death was related to the release of the USTR report.
“There is no police investigation, and the authorities have no suspicions about Professor Zhang’s death,” a representative of the family told the South China Morning Post. “You will read that he committed suicide, and this is true. But you will also read in the family statement that he had periodic bouts with depression.”
The death is suspicious, however, because of its closeness to the release of the USTR report.