OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook
In a recent review* of employment in China, the headline read “Take Our Workers, Please”. It aptly described efforts by Chinese officials to provide jobs for a hard-hit rural province. But the government is also using the global dotcom slowdown to draw back some of the 400,000 to 500,000 Chinese who studied, worked and stayed abroad in the last 25 years.
To encourage the return of talented expatriates, China – which has just become an observer on the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy – recently launched a project to develop 100 universities into world-class institutions that not only provide higher education training, but also academic employment and research opportunities. Competitive salaries and benefits are being offered by companies and development parks.But significant repatriation of highly skilled Chinese may take many years, and some Chinese fear that WTO membership could bring the competition home as well. A National People’s Congress deputy commented (in the October ChinaDaily.com) that, “Many multinational companies have entered China and more will come, and they will inevitably contend for qualified personnel with Chinese entrepreneurs.”Among Chinese companies, a shift in their competitive focus from quantity to quality and innovation seems to have started, Chinese innovation according to the OECD’s latest STI Outlook. In 1999, some 46,000 Chinese publications were included in the Science Citation Index, Engineering Index (EI) and the Index to Scientific and Technical Proceedings (ISTP), a 94% jump from 1992. Patenting activity has also rapidly increased. Between 1994 and 1999, the number of patents granted in China increased by 26% a year, with a 47% surge in 1999.Still, the share of patents awarded to Chinese enterprises is disproportionate to foreign companies, and only a small share of patents awarded to Chinese applicants are for inventions, as opposed to functional designs or appearances. China has clearly benefited from visiting foreign experts and workers. According to the Chinese Ministry of Labour and Social Security, some 830,000 foreign experts came to work in China between 1978 and 1999, with a surge of 85,000 in 1999 alone. And the Ministry of Science and Technology now estimates that returning overseas students started most domestic Internet-based ventures.
* Far Eastern Economic Review, article by Ben Dolven,27 February 2003.© OECD Observer No. 236, March 2003