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Shake-Up of Expert Controls

The service sector is ripe for a mini-boom in foreign experts with increasing numbers expected to seek work in China following its entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Officials have listed the information, consulting, finance, accounting and management areas as being potential hot spots for applications from overseas professionals.

The inflow of foreign experts has long been controlled by central authorities who have favoured big and medium-sized State-owned firms.

Now Beijing has announced it will relinquish its administrative role on the introduction of experts, levelling the playing field for all business interests.

"The government will guide the market via regulations and remain hands-off with regard to the number and nationality of professionals or intermediaries," said Wan Xueyuan, director of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.

A large-scale market on the international exchange of professionals has been established in Zhongguancun, Beijing's high-tech centre.

Wan said Tuesday that the platform--where domestic firms can quarry for foreign professionals via intermediaries -- will intensify its operations in the coming months.

That will expand domestic companies' access to the global pool of talents, enabling them to get advanced expertise ahead of the tough competition in the global market following China's entry to the WTO, analysts said.

Since China began opening-up in 1978, millions of foreign experts ranging from engineers and mechanics to the latest Internet wizzkids have flocked to take up posts.

Last year, more than 220,000 foreign professionals were working in China--eight times the figure in 1991.

Wan said there would be a much bigger flow in the next five years.

Justin Rudelson, executive director of the Institute for Global Chinese Affairs at the University of Maryland, estimated China needs at least one million specialists on accession to the WTO to ensure a smooth transition.

Li Peihua, vice-director of Zhenjiang Foreign Experts Bureau in East China's Jiangsu Province, said foreign experts working in China right now are mostly-retired professionals who failed to bring the latest know-how to China.

"The problem is more conspicuous in the booming IT sector. Top-notch global experts have not come to China yet. The experts we introduced were introducing technology that was 3 to 5 years behind the latest trend," said Li.

The situation is exacerbated by a global shortage of top professionals, which leaves nations jockeying to recruit the most talented.

This is why Li has urged Beijing to slash red tape and upgrade its legal framework and policies to create a relaxed working and living environment for foreign experts.

But Zhou Ligong, an official with responsibility for human exchanges in North China's Shanxi, said the government could not do this on its own.

He pinpointed the biggest problem as a lacklustre attitude among Chinese companies to the introduction of experts.

"Many enterprises still focus entirely on investment projects, especially on the sum of money a foreign investor will bring in," said Zhou.

"They did not realize that talent is the key for business in today's global market. An expert's value can be equivalent to a whole project."

Zhou's words were echoed by Li Peihua, who cited an example of a small-sized chemical firm in Yangzhong City, a small town in his administration.

The Three Star Chemical Company--a small town plant -- was expanding into a holding firm with co-investment with global partners after employing foreign experts in the past four years. They helped in upgrading management, restructuring and marketing, while also sorting out a series of technological ticklers.

"The company's success is now being emulated in the local business community," said Li. "They are now coming to terms with the idea that knowledge powered by experts is imperative for business."

(China Daily November 14,2001)

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