Talent returns to China, but progress slow

Updated: 2014-01-27 02:24

By ZHENG JINRAN in Shijiazhuang (China Daily)

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Returning from overseas and contributing his talent in high technology to help the country has been a long-cherished dream for Xie Meilong, but he found it has been no easy task.

"Many of our designs contain high technology that is new even in the United States," said the 48-year-old, who holds an master's degree in biotechnology. "But many companies feel reluctant to invest because of the risk."

He began studies in the US in 1992, and worked there after graduation as a researcher and then senior vice-president.

"Not only me, but many of my friends felt we needed to go back with our knowledge to start our own enterprises," he said, adding that about 20 had joined his team in 2011 to develop innovative products at a research and development center in the United States.

Of the more than 100 designs he brought back, the ones he hoped to expand first were products using 3D printing and a vegetable incubator with special lights.

However, when he tried to find partners at trade fairs — whether in coastal cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou with frequent foreign trade companies or inland cities such as in Hebei province — they refused to take the risk.

"I feel their conservative thinking may hinder strong economic growth in the future," he said.

"They like to take products that already sold overseas, since the potential risks can be lower," he said, "But it's not the way to spur technological and economic development."

Fang Zhijun, manager of Ping'an Furniture, a large private company in Hebei province, admitted that they prefer to introduce mature technologies instead of new ones as the company cannot afford to take the chance of a loss, even though aversion to risk may put them behind.

"Start-ups in new and high technology can be a major force to turn the technologies into production, serving the economy and society," said Wang Zhenyao, director of Center for China and Globalization.

A report on returned overseas talent compiled by Wang found that more than 270,000 people came back in 2012, an increase of 46 percent over 2011, adding that rapid economic development in China is one of the major attractions.

Of those who returned, more than 30 percent took jobs or started a business in areas such as new materials, energy, biotechnology and electronic information.

"Governments should make good use of their value, encouraging more State-owned and large enterprises to cooperate with them in developing new products," Wang said.

Private enterprises have been the usual partner for returned talent, but limited financing and other resources may hinder cooperation.

"More cooperation between non-private enterprise and returned technology talent can serve the economy better," he said.