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China's brain gain spurs innovation
Last Updated: 2017-03-07 17:11 | Xinhua
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Li Jin works in his office in southwest China's Chengdu city for 14 hours a day, while his wife and child live on the other side of the world in Britain.

The founder and CEO of privately-owned HitGen, based in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, manages to visit his family in Britain every quarter.

His four-year-old firm has stunned the world with its human DNA encoded libraries. The patented gene database contains 5.6 billion small molecules and macrocycles designed with drug-like properties, which mean they are the starting points for discovering new drug therapies.

The former global director of compound and computational sciences at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca returned to China to become an entrepreneur, joining China's national "Thousand Talent" program.

Attracted by generous incentives, the recruitment program has attracted more than 6,000 academics and researchers to China from abroad since its launch in 2008.

TO END BRAIN DRAIN

As the world's second-largest economy, China is in urgent need of overseas talent as it transforms from a labor-intensive, low-tech economy into one driven by innovation in science and technology.

Statistics show that more than 70 percent of key national research project leaders are overseas returnees. Over 80 percent of academicians at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and at the Chinese Academy of Engineering have experience studying or working abroad.

A report released by the Social Sciences Academic Press in 2016 showed that good job opportunities and internationally competitive salaries are the top two factors in attracting overseas Chinese to return to China.

"Global experts who were born in the 1970s often already have a stable life, wealth and fame at abroad. It seems that they lack nothing," said Yang Fan, an official with the organization department of Suzhou city, east China's Jiangsu Province.

Li Jin had his own reasons to return.

"I came back to China to become an entrepreneur in biotech discovery," said the native of Chongqing municipality, neighboring Sichuan.

He finished his undergraduate studies in Sichuan University in 1982 before going to Britain for further education, remaining in Britain for 20 years and becoming a British citizen.

He said that China's sound entrepreneurial environment and thirst for high-tech talent was the primary factor that drove him to start his business in Chengdu, while the European and American employment business environment looked gloomy under the impact of the global financial crisis.

In 2012, the Chengdu city government provided Li's start-up with plenty of support including free office space for three years, setting-up funds, and various subsidies.

Li said half of his team of 140 staff were from outside Sichuan, including overseas.

OVERSEAS RETURNING WAVE

As China is improving its national strength and adding favorable policies for foreign-educated talent, it is witnessing a rising wave of overseas returnees.

In 2016, 544,500 Chinese students studied overseas, 144,900 people more than 2012; while the number of returnees in 2016 was 432,500, up 159,600 on 2012, according to the Ministry of Education.

The ratio of the returning people has fallen from 3.15:1 in 2006 to 1.28:1 in 2015.

"With an active economy and fast-growing high-tech industries, China provides entrepreneurs opportunities they cannot enjoy in the United States," said Deng Feng, who returned to China from Silicon Valley.

Returning overseas talent has improved China's competitiveness and become vital forces in areas, such as science and technology, education and high-tech industries.

Meanwhile, thanks to a strong economy and better opportunities, the number of foreign students studying in China has continued to rise. China has now become most popular study destination in Asia. In 2016, more than 440,000 overseas students studied in China, up 35 percent on 2012.

Experts estimate that China will transform from the biggest source of talent in the world, into a major destination for international talent over the next five years.

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