A Tech Guru Captivated Canada. Then He Fled to China.

Sun Yian was seen as the country’s way into the huge Chinese tech boom. Instead, his disappearance has raised questions about Canada’s eagerness for deals.


Comments: 47

  1. The quest for money constantly overrides the legitimate concerns of national security. Foreign entities should not own, or even have partial interest in any company that provides, or has the capability to provide, critical hard technology or software. And this applies to such soft industry as mega farms and food processors. Additionally not one work visa should be granted to non-citizens in these industries.

  2. A similar thing happened at The Ohio State University -- an acclaimed Chinese professor, working for OSU, had access to restricted defense information as part of his work with NASA. He abruptly resigned from his position in 2015 and immediately fled back to China with all his new found knowledge about American defense technology. He was put under investigation by the FBI for failing to disclose his ongoing connections to Chinese scientists and has refused to come back to the U.S. or answer questions from the FBI.

  3. Like the many pieces on Huawei before it this article once more raises the alarm for those contemplating doing business with Chinese businessmen or Chinese companies. This time the warning is directed towards Canadians who are from the US geopolitical perspective getting a bit too "chummy" with the Chinese. Like Australia (see NYT's new Australia section devoted almost entirely to educating those rather dim Aussies on the inisdious China threat) before them the US government through its various resources is sending the message that this behaviour is not welcome. The hearts and mnds messaging has been clear for some time. Under the new regime pretty soon, if not already, any person or company doing business with China will be suspect. (Or we will just not see any of it covered in the MSM see the NBA in China, entertainment figures etc.. it's going to take a while to reel those guys in.) Canada, Australia and Western Europe need to get on board. There is a new Cold War brewing. It doesn't make sense and could end the planet but when you are a country essentially run by your military industrial complex you are gonna do what you are gonna do. (See the parable of the scorpion and the frog.) So affable snow fairies to the North. Recognize your enemy and act accordingly! HQ is watching.

  4. Phew! For a second there, I was afraid you would forget to link the "[American] military industrial complex" to an article about a CHINESE criminal. What? No mention of the Citizens United decision?

  5. Sun Yian is apparently either a very poor businessnan or an excellent fraudster (so far retribution seems in the wind). That he is ethnically Chinese or a Chinese citizen really has very little to do with these attributes. There are literally thousands of members of the Chinese Canadian Chamber of Commerce and China Canada Business Council comprising both companies and employees of those companies. Many of them are entrenpreneurs. The percentage of Chinese businessmen who turne out to be fraudsters is probably the same as the percentage of Americans who turn out to be fraudsters. (One difference is the Chinese legal system has far more severe penalties for white collar crime than the US system - see the outcome of just about any major fraud in the US and look up "camp fed".) So what's the point of the hair of fire treatment of this case? Does this signfiy a reversal of longstanding NYT policy against linking race and nationality rdata when it comes to criminal activity or once again is it done in this article just because it involves China and a Chinese businessman. Gosh. I wonder.

  6. Xenophobia is certainly a potential outcome for any story of this ilk and that is chilling. The focus should not be on a people, but on a government. China is a totalitarian regime and the real problem here rests in our lust for markets, capital and investment.

  7. In other words, the Chinese police state has been built on the foundation of (stolen, obtained-under-false-[pretenses) Western know how.

  8. Another tip-off might have been its 'product line': "everything from semiconductors to facial recognition." Unless there's a big company backing them, real start-ups are generally cash-poor. That means they put all of their eggs into one basket. Such a broad product line might indicate that the purpose of the company was technology surveillance.

  9. There are numerous examples of the Chinese Government whether it's by offering better opportunities and access to the governments autocracy or by force that they can reel in talent or force talent to serve the government.

    At a certain level you can't blame, they believe in controlling their citizens with more surveillance than us and recognize while we have dominated this era of internet, they are positioning themselves to control the next leap of technologies whether it's 5G, AI, or simply moving faster to Green energy technology to stop consuming from our coal industry.

    They are changing the rules of how the world works whether it's by paying companies with tempting contracts and promise of access to the Chinese market and then stealing their technology or simply implementing backdoors in their products like Lenovo did awhile ago and they did with ZTE. It will be hard to trust Chinese companies since they have such close ties to their government.

    The rest of the world plays by one set of rules and they are playing by others, we simply must adapt and adjust accordingly.

    A General once asked this Marine if receiving $50 million dollars would he create a new life here in the U.S. or go back home. Sadly while most people come here or any Western Country for a better life, I can attest that sadly some people would leave. I guess in the back at a corner of Fort Bragg they had it right, "Do you love this country more than your own mother ?"

  10. Same old chinese film-flam. Canadians are well intentioned - - which unfortunately comes across as gullible.
    I've spent much time in China: it's a financial house-of-cards. There is no private enterprise there; it's all linked to the chinese government.

  11. This is not anything new by any stretch. I worked for a company that NY state gave them a $1 million grant ostensibly to "create jobs". They took the money, the owner bought a Maserati, then promptly laid off half the workforce. Told people to stay at their desks at lunchtime because the people that gave them a mil were coming around that day. So that way when they came in and saw 5 people there in an empty office building he could just say they were at lunch.

    All of these "incentives" are insane and go to businesses with who don't need it in the first place and are usually flaky tech startups that don't actually produce anything. All in the name of "creating high tech jobs in NY state", which it never does, all these incentive grants get earmarked for kickback schemes and other ploys for the holders of the purse strings to siphon off some for themselves. Hey, remember a time when the government didn't need to create jobs? Remember that? Why don't we try going back to that NY, where you don't suck up unconscionable percentages of middle class wages in taxes to hand to fraudsters who run a scam on you and then pack up and run away once it collapses. Trust me, I work in tech, I've seen it firsthand right here in NY. The only reason this made the paper is because of the tie-in with the news du jour about some trade war with China or whatever bread and circuses is playing in the "media" to keep the masses entertained.

  12. I worked on facial recognition software at Istuary. The specific points I would like to make are that (1) our the research my team produced was cutting-edge and effective (versus fraudulent, even if the company's finances were fraudulent) and that (2) as such it raised red flags and ethical concerns over the sorts of use cases the our clients were seeking to enact, many of which are specific in degree and kind to China; but that (3) these concerns in general, and the issue of tech transfer, are inherent to any new technology, and that from the perspective of 25 years of Artificial Intelligence reseach, and eye-opening experiences in the worlds of the military, startups, government labs, and academia (in the U.S. and Canada), the risks are universal across countries.

  13. I worked on facial recognition software at Istuary. The specific points I would like to make are that (1) our the research my team produced was cutting-edge and effective (versus fraudulent, even if the company's finances were fraudulent) and that (2) as such it raised red flags and ethical concerns over the sorts of use cases the our clients were seeking to enact, many of which are specific in degree and kind to China; but that (3) these concerns in general, and the issue of tech transfer, are inherent to any new technology, and that from the perspective of 25 years of Artificial Intelligence research, and eye-opening experiences working in the military, startups, government labs, and academia (in the U.S. and Canada), the risks are universal across countries.

  14. I worked on facial recognition algorithms at Istuary. The specific points I would like to make are that (1) the research my team produced was cutting-edge and effective (versus fraudulent, even if the company's finances were fraudulent) and that (2) as such it raised red flags and ethical concerns over the sorts of use cases the our clients were seeking to enact, many of which are specific in degree and kind to China; but that (3) these concerns in general, and the issue of tech transfer, are inherent to any new technology, and that from the perspective of 25 years of Artificial Intelligence research, and eye-opening experiences working in the military, startups, government labs, and academia (in the U.S. and Canada), the risks are universal across countries.

  15. Take the money, and run. How about that ?? Gosh, what a big shocker. And you can bet that the unpaid Canadian worker's technology WILL be "used to help China's growing domestic surveillance state".

    Communist Red China has one goal, and that is 100% domination of the Earth's people, resources, and economies. And, they will take this by the stroke of a pen, or at gunpoint.

    It is exactly like Xi's "One Road" concept for "development" through Asia and Africa. What rubbish !!
    There's no free ride on that "One Road". Rather, it is just the opposite.

    Tolkien said it best; "One Road to rule them all - One Road to find them - One Road to bring them all - and in the darkness, bind them".

    Good luck, Canada. Watch out for those "red flags" next time.

  16. We're slow learners. This is not the first time we've been had and until our politicians start paying attention it won't be the last.

    When you get a company that wants to open a mine then import it's own workers and pay them substandard wages it should set off alarm bells, no? Wasn't until the hew and cry went up that anything was done to stop it.

  17. I have been to multiple meet ups at different Vancouver “incubators” like this. The offices always look cheap compared to others with a big wall of Chinese founders standing next to Canadian politicians. They always have a table of a lot of jobs but can never explain clearly what they do. Obvious whiffs of shadiness and I always stayed away but they seem to suck in a lot people who just need a job.

  18. "“The fraudster network fakes bankruptcy, maliciously owes salaries and cons its employees.”

    Underneath was an ultimatum: “Pay us the money and we’ll unlock the place.”"

    For a minute there I thought that the article was talking about Trump.

  19. China has long had a track record of stealing intellectual property, trade secrets, and military technology from other countries. Many Chinese nationals have been caught stealing secrets from their American employers to start their own companies in China. Think about the thousands who didn't get caught. Many of listed companies in China are fake and many of the ones listed on western equity exchanges are fake with the only intent to steal from dumb western investors. With that as a backdrop, Canada was incredibly naive and deserves to be taken by this con man.

  20. Economic espionage is not stealing. It is practiced by friends and foes alike, Apple vs Samsung for example. Maybe it is better to admit the Chinese are more capable in their espionage activities.

  21. I hope Canada can slap a lien on his 2 multi- million dollar homes, so they can pay employees missing wages.

  22. I am a former employee of this company, thank you for thinking of us! (Many of my colleagues were on limited work visas and this prohibited from working for other companies while unable collect any pay for working at this one.)

    Through diligent though painstaking efforts, the responsible Canadian agency did put a lien on his homes! But, my understanding is that one was in his wife's name and thus escaped capture, and the other was heavily leveraged. So, first the banks took their cut, and then investors and landlords, then nothing left for workers. On auctioning off our technical equipment and furniture and IP, and paying off all these other parties first, employees got about 1-2% of what they were owed.

    The author has some excellent prior reporting on political and structural limitations on the ability of Canada to pursue financial crimes. As for the advocate agency serving us employees, they did their job thoroughly and with compassion; but under the rules, owners are at the head of the line and workers at the back--that story, I think, has been universal since hunter-gatherers became farmers.

  23. I am a former employee of this company, thank you for thinking of us! (Many of my colleagues were on limited work visas and this prohibited from working for other companies while unable collect any pay for working at this one.)

    Through diligent though painstaking efforts, the responsible Canadian agency did put a lien on his homes in British Columbia! But, my understanding is that one was in his wife's name and thus escaped capture, and the other was heavily leveraged. So, first the banks took their cut, and then investors and landlords, then nothing was left for workers. On auctioning off our technical equipment and office furniture and IP, and paying off all these other parties first, employees got about 1-2% of what they were owed.

    The author has some excellent prior reporting on political and structural limitations on the ability of Canada to pursue financial crimes. As for the advocate agency that served us employees (in BC), they did their job thoroughly and with compassion; but under the rules, owners are at the head of the line and workers at the back--that story, I think, has been universal since hunter-gatherers became farmers.

  24. As a British Columbia resident, I find this story particularly disturbing. Encouraging trade and investment is one thing, naïve stupidity is something quite different. I have defended and supported the Trudeau government in a host of circumstances, but this story leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and questioning who are the other Chinese agents that are operating with our blessing. This latter comment is particularly concerning because it lends verisimilitude to the forces of xenophobia, not a good outcome.

    We seem to forget that capitalism is not democracy and indeed it can be argued that capitalism works best in a benevolent dictatorship. Our lust for foreign capital has resulted in agreements that have not included human rights, labour rights, environmental responsibility and the adoption of the principles of liberal democracy. In the case of China, we have allowed a totalitarian state to become very strong simply because business wants access to both cheap labour and minimal regulation on one hand, and an open door to a huge market on the other.

  25. I wonder if I could start the same type of startup in China, or is there no reciprocation.

  26. Canada is small country. So small that size of internal market is not sufficient for securing high standards of leaving. US is in the process of vacating its place of top trade partner and it will be filled by China in some time. One should not be surprised by increase in cooperation between Canada and China (Canada and India, Canada and Russia, ect.).

  27. another crooked chinese,...interesting as ti where he ends up in China...no doubt working for the government..

  28. Chinese are becoming grifters like we had in this country so long ago.

    They go from one country to other conning folks and flee when about to be caught.

    Just ask Aussies and Kiwis - they are regretting catering to Chinese at our expense. Both governments there made a special effort to woo these fraudsters to show that they are independent from us.

    Now, Aussies are clamping down, the Kiwis are about to purchase aircrafts from us to confront Chinese menace.

    Someone famously said " a sucker born every minute."

    Here is my prediction, Brits are about to find out they have been had by Chinese now thatthey are clamping down on Russian thieves.

  29. What's the purpose of this article? Mr. Sun failed to pay his Canadian employees but also failed to pay his Chinese employees. He failed in his business as investors in China is searching for him. Apparently his business of facial recognition which Chinese government uses is a failure, otherwise he would not have fled. The article implies he's under Chinese government protection which the article didn't give any evidence. I assume NYT wants to link Chinese surveillance program with this failing businessman and failed miserably.

  30. Chinese bosses pay workers once/month or once/2 months. Workers are always infinitely servile and boss disappearing with the payroll or conjuring up excuses to fire is standard procedure,... tricks and dishonesty are inseparable from Chinese relationships

  31. Chinese bosses pay workers once/month or once/2 months. Workers are always infinitely servile and boss disappearing with the payroll or conjuring up excuses to fire is standard procedure, tricks and dishonesty are inseparable from Chinese relationships

  32. How much of this is to blame on China the country versus a dodgy Chinese citizen? Not sure, but Canada is getting a taste of the dangers of a resurgent China. As an American, I'm wary. China is like Russia, only bigger and maybe even more corrupt and sleazy.

  33. The worst part of the story was glossed over. Multiple company employees contacted the Federal Government to warn them that the business was a Ponzi scheme and this company was still approved to hand out visas. Those visa were in turn sold to rich Chinese looking to side-step the foreign buyers tax while investors money was used to speculate on Vancouver real estate. Search "Ottawa approved fraudster to offer visas despite whistleblower warnings of immigration and Ponzi scams" for more on that story. They also stiffed employees for millions in wages. That story is titled "Employer who stole nearly $3M in wages from 157 workers fined $500"

  34. An employer disappearing with unpaid pay rolls not that uncommon in China. They may reappear in business with different names someplace else. Enforcement an unknown in most cases. Business is business; Sun may have come with experience.

  35. I worked on facial recognition algorithms at Istuary. The specific points I would like to make are that (1) the research my team produced was cutting-edge and effective (versus fraudulent, even if the company's finances were fraudulent) and that (2) as such it raised red flags and ethical concerns over the sorts of use cases the our clients were seeking to enact, many of which are specific in degree and kind to China; but that (3) these concerns in general, and the issue of tech transfer, are inherent to any new technology, and that from the perspective of 25 years of Artificial Intelligence research, and eye-opening experiences working in the military, startups, government labs, and academia (in the U.S. and Canada), the risks are universal across countries.

  36. I don't think I am going to change anyone's mind about how much worse China can do with facial recognition technology, compared to the U.S. or Canada. But, I my own belief that the Chinese government lacks the diabolical imagination to create systems of oppression that haven't already been market-tested elsewhere. The means may be more direct or crude, or be government sanctioned versions of abuses that only happen on a de facto basis elsewhere. But systems drive reality and in a democracy we are responsible for our the systems that arise, sanctioned or not, in our polity.

    I am not "troubled [on a humanitarian or ethical basis]" any more because our clients were Chinese than in the case of any other human clients. The destruction of Uighur life and militarization of police in SARs, the long reach of SOEs, social credit scores, are all serious issues and unique to China. But until we can resolve our own oppression (and historical eradication) of indigenous peoples, until we can police Ferguson without using APCs, until minorities can get off of watch lists and onto the housing-eligible FICO tier, until we are able to"create jobs" without just subsidizing corporations and investors (and flimsy startups), I will view China-bashing as a distraction for low-income Americans to feel better about the diminished position foisted on them by high-income Americans, and for high-income Americans to assuage their competitive anxiety over a new class of tasteless rich people.

  37. Surveillance technology is all part of the international police state forming to keep control for the wealthy.

  38. At a time when China is facing an intellectual rights issue, it may be smarter to cough this guy up even if he had any tie with the PLA (no idea, just hypothetical).

    And Canada should have learned its lesson from the dissolution of Nortel Network, once a premier Canadian company.

  39. Canada is primed for the same sort of rightward populist tilt that has happened in so many other liberal democracies, and immigration is just as much a root complaint there as anywhere else. Canadian politicians in every party are credulous to a fault about the country's relationship to China, and the benefits have been asymmetrical since the late 1980s, when the handover triggered capital flight from Hong Kong and Guangdong. My observations as a professor at a university in BC suggest that there is a lot of latent anger among white Canadians, and the root complaints are exactly the same as what we've seen in other places in the last few years. The rhetoric about openness and tolerance is not felt as deeply once you move beyond the usual suspects within government, academia, and literary circles. Stephen Harper wanted to tap this discontent, but the timing wasn't right. I don't know if dissatisfaction has risen enough yet, but has definitely been growing.

  40. I think there is something of a pattern, if not only in policy but in public image and areas of electoral support and in campaign strategy, between: Clinton/Martin, Bush/Harper, Obama/Trudeau, and Trump/??? (maybe Ford or similar?)

    With the benefits of Chinese migration to BC, I am not sure whether we agree or disagree: I think the benefit has been asymmetrical, but that the dollar benefit has been astronomically in the direction of BC...it's just that the benefits go to a very select few of the local (white) residents. So if you mean that things are worse for the average person (hard to isolate the additional effects of low oil prices, real estate windfalls offset by real estate unaffordability) then I think it's hard to say who is right. But on the question of whether (1% of the people in) BC has profited from foreign capital, as a new PR I'd say it seems like that's the whole economy, for locals with privileged positions controlling access to approvals and real estate but limited technical skills or appetite for wage labor.

  41. I cannot understand the outrage that the technology might be used for surveillance technology in China. At the same time it's okay if the US is interested in this technology is okay and not a problem. In particular, it's funny to see that reaction from citizens of the US because they run a big big surveillance machinery "in the name of terrorism", they run secret courts and call themselves a free country.

    Having Trump rulling the US like a dictorship with Republicans just silent and bending the Constitution to a degree that is disgusting and having Fox news as government broadcasting agency isn't so far away from Russia or China. When it comes to the differences in media I recommend reading Chomskys work a bit.

  42. A Chinese grifter is symptomatic of all dealings with China? And is Trump is symptomatic of all dealings with the USA?

  43. “The fraudster network fakes bankruptcy, maliciously owes salaries and cons its employees.”

    Is this a quote about Trump?

  44. Trudeau is a sheep waiting to be shorn. Trump, on the other hand, is always criticized for seeing the worst in people and complaining constantly about being "ripped off" or "scammed". Who would you rather have dealing with the Chinese government?

  45. Can’t say which of these two is smarter in life, but if I believed that the other government would try to “win” against me by convincing its people that everyone is against them , and using the popular support to improve its freedom of action, then I would want Trudeau. If I thought my own country could benefit from this strategy, (i.e. view every transaction as a game where someone is cheating someone and my country should have a strongman with extraordinary powers to ensure that we are the ones doing the cheating) then I would want Trump.

  46. Can’t say which of these two is smarter in life, but if I believed that the other government would try to “win” against me by convincing its people that everyone is against them , and using the popular support to improve its freedom of action, then I would want Trudeau. If I thought my own country could benefit from this strategy, (i.e. view every transaction as a game where someone is cheating someone and my country should have a strongman with extraordinary powers to ensure that we are the ones doing the cheating) then I would want Trump.

  47. In response to the many comments (and the quote in the article) about "stealing technology", here is just one opinion, but one informed by working near the top (military approvals of tech transfer agreements) and bottom (tech peon implementing algorithms so everyone can get rich by "owning" technology) rungs of tech.

    Most of the highest-level officials I've worked with have been pretty open in discussing tech transfer restriction as an anti-competitive protectionist issue to save U.S. manufacturers from facing foreign (or small business) competition (otherwise why sell tech to KSA and not PRC?) Sometimes our own military concerns were met, and sometimes not, but always the boss was Congress, and thus We the People they serve (mostly by subsidizing owners who promise to share their windfalls with workers then don't, and then blame someone else.)

    Most of the lowest-level engineers I've worked with on actually building the tech have been Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern people (with H1-B/PR/Citizenship/Other) working for white executives and Indian/Middle Eastern-origin U.S.-citizen investors to generate money for shareholders around the world who believe you can own a technology, by copying publicly-available research papers co-authored by white professors and their Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern graduate students. I don't see a need to be mad about any of this, but maybe it is better to just leave nationality (and race) and national security out of it.