China’s new leadership has attached greatest-ever importance to oversees returnees as the country deepens the reform of its political system and economic transformation. The Party is striving to put more trust in the overseas returnees and seeking more support and political participation from them. By bringing them into the administration and governance talent pool, in addition to scientific research and business sectors, the government hopes to add vigor to China’s social and economic development.
Graduates prepare for a job fair in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Photo: CFP
Recently, 50 top students returning from overseas studies were invited to attend a short course at the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing to learn about the new policies on united front work and how to raise their ability to participate in government work.
The event came just one month after Chinese President Xi Jinping said that overseas-educated Chinese, together with the prominent figures in new media and businessmen from the private sector, especially young entrepreneurs, will be the three major targets for the Party to build solidarity with. In his speech, Xi stressed that overseas-educated people will be a new focus for the united front work.
China began to involve the Chinese with overseas educational background in the united front work in 2000. "The pledge made by Xi shows that the central leadership is attaching more importance to this group of people, a talent pool vital for the country’s globalization," said Wang Huiyao, vice president of the Western Returned Scholars Association and Chinese Overseas-Educated Scholars Association.
Xi also remarked at a united front work meeting on May 20 that the central government encouraged the overseas-educated people to return to work and serve in various forms.
"Before, they were mainly encouraged to work in scientific research and innovation fields. Now there’s a trend that administration and governance will be the rising fields to attract overseas-educated talents," Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday.
An overseas returnee with a doctorate degree, Wang also directs the Center for China & Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank committed to addressing issues related to global exchanges of Chinese enterprises and talents.
He suggested the government should take supporting measures, such as relaxing visa requirements for overseas Chinese and lifting restrictions on overseas-educated talents to enter the Party and government organs.
In a commentary on Xi’s united front work speech, the People’s Daily said that it’s becoming an urgent need for China to attract excellent overseas talents as it faces pressure from economic slowdown. "The overseas-educated Chinese are always highly educated with a broad perspective, which is conducive to bringing new vigor to Chinese economic development," the newspaper said.
Wang said under the strategies of going out and globalization, China has a big shortage of international talents.
"The implementation of the ’One Belt, One Road’ initiative and the operation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will both need a large pool of well-educated people with multi-lingual ability and international visions," Wang said.
During the seven-day seminar organized by the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee from June 28, 50 scientists, scholars and entrepreneurs from scientific education, finance, healthcare, biological pharmacy and new energy fields listened to reports, held discussions and conducted community service.
Among the attendees, whose average age is 46, 35 have obtained doctoral degrees, 28 are enterprise chairman or president, and 14 are managers or academic leaders in higher learning institutes, according to a report by the Beijing Youth Daily.
Qi Xuchun, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, gave a speech on how to raise political participation ability. He told the attendees to go to grass-roots level to learn about the real situation and know about the people.
"I oppose some people who enjoy the fruits of reform and opening up while bad-mouthing the country. When you have a problem, you speak it out, but you must have a firm faith in your heart," Qi was cited as saying by the Beijing Youth Daily.
The UFWD selected the attendees based on a number of criteria including political stance, professional background and public recognition, said the report. This is the second seminar organized by the UFWD for returned overseas scholars. The department said the event will be held annually in future.
Wang, who attended the seminar last year, said the seminar not only displays the government’s attention to this group of people, but also provides a good opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss problems. "Refresher course is a distinctive mode of cadre training in China. The inclusion of overseas scholars into this system shows that the government is attaching more importance to them," Wang said.
Official figures show that by the end of 2014, the number of Chinese students who have studied overseas reached 3.52 million since the reform and opening-up, among which 1.81 million have returned to China.
But most of the returnees joined foreign-owned or private enterprises and universities. Few of them have entered into the Party and government bodies.
According to data compiled by the Southern Weekly last year, among 169 officials at ministerial level or above, only 31 have studied overseas and 15 have obtained overseas certificates or degrees.
Employers’ concerns over political orientation of and information breach by overseas returnees are allegedly among the factors that prevent the entry of these talents into the Party or the government. Some intellectuals with overseas education background have been openly accused by the Party-controlled media of "smearing China."
An official from the Organization Department of the Jiangxi CPC Central Committee said they have staff members with overseas education, but most are transferred from universities’ leadership posts. "We encourage overseas returnees to join higher education institutes or scientific research companies, but how should we encourage them to join government organs?" the anonymous official was cited as saying by the Southern Weekly in a report last April.
LU Miao (pseudonym), a student from Renmin University of China, planned to join a master’s course on national conflict overseas and work in a committee on minorities after returning to China. But his wish was quenched when his dean told him that it was difficult for an overseas returnee to work in an organ concerning State security, reported the newspaper.
Wang suggested that restrictions on overseas returnees to work in Party and government organs and public institutions should be further relaxed. "We should expand avenues for overseas scholars to make proposals and participate in the policy-making process, helping them play a bigger role in politics," Wang noted.
Zhao Jinliang, a senior project manager with Chengtong Human Resources Company, which is engaged in job placement for overseas returnees, told the Global Times that China has opened nearly all occupations to them, except the departments dealing with confidential information.
Huang believes there are historical reasons behind the cautious attitude toward overseas returnees.
In 1981, China officially implemented regulations allowing students to study abroad at their own expense and stipulated that "self-funded returnees shall be politically treated as equal to the public-funded ones."
Before that, China mainly sent political and technical elites to study overseas at public expense through recommendations and selection. However, many of these elites didn’t return, especially around the year 1989.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the number of self-funded students greatly surpassed those receiving State funding. From 1978 to 2000, among the total 223,000 people who studied abroad, 71 percent were supported by the State. But in 2000, 83 percent were self-funded. Last year, the proportion reached 93 percent.
But the majority of these students chose to stay overseas. To attract the talents back, China has launched a series of programs, including the "Thousand Talents Program" in 2008 and "Ten Thousand Talents Program" in 2012, offering generous remunerations in terms of salary, housing and household registration, or hukou. But still, many of these nominees are in scientific research and teaching fields.
The limited channels for overseas returnees to become civil servants are the major barrier, Wang Huiyao said.
Now, the main channel to be a civil servant is to sit in the annual examinations held by the central and lower level governments. In many cases, the entry qualifications include membership of the Party which overseas returnees generally don’t have.
Wang suggested that the organizers should set up examination centers in foreign countries and increase recruitment channels for overseas returnees.
Xiao Han, an overseas returnee who established Lanshan Group, a private equity fund offering investment in social areas, said the overseas experience helps students become more patriotic and more competitive. "As an expat in a foreign country, we have a strong desire for the homeland to become powerful," he told the Global Times.
He said the returned scholars have several advantages compared with their home-grown peers. "They are willing to make change; they are aware of both Chinese and foreign culture and know how to blend and avoid conflicts; and can introduce good things to China and good things of China to outside. In addition, they usually have a higher sense of social responsibility," Xiao said.
Zhao Leji, head of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, called for greater trust in overseas returnees during a meeting of the "Thousand Talents Program" in March. "When introducing high-level overseas talents, who have special advantages, we should trust them and make best use of them," Zhao said.
Xiao Han said he noticed that the number of returnees has been rising in recent years. Official statistics show that last year, 459,800 students went to study abroad and 364,800 returned, much more than before.
Many students are pleased to see that overseas returnees get more importance. Ren Yue, who went to St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance in Russia last year, told the Global Times, "There’s a perception that many students who go overseas for education are not good performers. Now we feel that this perception is changing," Ren told the Global Times.
However, Huang Hongyu, an IT engineer in Australia who stayed back after overseas study there, said he hoped the slogans are turned into more specific measures to help returnees get employed.
Wang said the top-down approach can push the local authorities to take action. He said "green card" policies China recently issued are one of the attempts to allow overseas Chinese to stay in China.
The Ministry of Public Security in June decided to open applications for permanent residence to foreigners working in a number of institutes including State key laboratories, State enterprise technology centers, national engineering research centers, and foreign-invested R&D centers.
At an entrepreneurship forum for overseas returnees held this week in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, Guizhou offered more than 500 jobs for overseas returnees, with the capital city Guiyang alone offering 380 jobs, including 100 in public institutions like schools and hospitals, 17 in the government, and 42 in State-owned companies.
Zhao Jinliang who joined the meeting said the local governments are answering the call from the central government.
Ma Chen contributed to this story
Newspaper headline: Talents return for Party
From China Daily, July 29, 2015