China’s new high-end talent visa: fast track to the future
Having lived in China for 15 years now and having the privilege to serve as a commentator and columnist in various Chinese media and previously having worked for a US President and at the United Nations, and served as an executive at a major American TV Network I continue to marvel at how much China and the US have changed.
Foreign graduates listen to introduction of an enterprise at a job fair especially held for foreign students in Heilongjiang University in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, April 25, 2015. More than 200 foreign graduates from ten countries tried to find a job at the fair. [Photo: Xinhua]
In China you have a president who is building bridges, literally and figuratively, and leading your country into a new era both domestically and internationally, while the US has a president who builds walls, literally and figuratively, and is leading the country down a chaotic slippery slope. Several policy initiatives already announced recently vividly illustrate the contrasts.
China has just implemented a new long-stay fast-track visa policy for “high-end talent” and their families. The policy is designed to supplement the scientific and entrepreneurial talent of Chinese students, especially those who study in foreign universities and return back to China equipped with critical thinking skills, often with practical experience in their chosen fields.
It is no coincidence that the significant policy change follows closely on from two important recent declarations. First, Premier Li Keqiang said in September that China's economic restructuring required a more open policy toward recruiting foreign expertise. Second, Party Secretary Xi Jinping’s declaration at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China that Socialism with Chinese Characteristics has reached a new era and that its principal contradiction has progressed from one of “the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production” to “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.”
To make this Olympic-sized long jump requires the talent of the best and the brightest that the new visa program is designed to welcome. To me there are two main initiatives that require prodigious brain-power in the near-term that will catapult China back into its role as world leader that it held for more than a millennium as chronicled by Cambridge don Joseph Needham in his 27 book seminal series Science and Civilization in China
The most important goal is a game-changer: to achieve China’s ambition of being the world leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) by 2030. This has so many potential civilian and military benefits as AI will be the disruptive technology of the 21st century. AI will surely change our lives even more profoundly than all scientific advancements have done since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.
The second goal, not unrelated to the first, is Made in China 2025. China has been criticized for many decades as a copycatting intellectual property pirate, increasingly good at manufacturing but devoid of original ideas. It is not the first developing country to be similarly accused. Brit Samuel Slater used his photographic memory in the Silicon Valley of the late 18h century, the British Midlands, to memorize textile technology and bring it to New England. He was called “the father of the American Industrial Revolution” by US President Andrew Jackson, but in England he was called “Slater, the traitor.
Nevertheless. Made in China 2025 has as its goal to improve domestic manufacturing techniques so that goods are no longer merely made in China using the technology of others. Rather, it seeks to domestically develop, using the most advanced homegrown techniques, and in concert with the AI 2030 initiative, to create goods designed and manufactured for use here as well as being licensed for use in other countries.
The new visa program will also have at least one perhaps unintended but salutary effect: building China’s soft power. China, as powerful as it has become, continues to have not mastered the art of winning the hearts and minds of others. The high-end talent visa will bring many opinion leaders to these shores. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing force, even in the era of social media. Hopefully, many of those who come will see with their own eyes what they can’t see at home: how much progress is being made here, and how many people’s lives have been radically transformed for the better in the space of less than seven decades.
Contrast this to President Donald Trump’s approach. He is slashing funding for scientific research, while at the same time boosting defense expenditures. He recently proposed spending $33 billion on border security, including building a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out. Imagine how many schools, hospitals and social welfare programs that could fund. Indeed, Trump is the ultimate hypocrite. His grandfather was a German draft dodger who made a small fortune running a house of ill-repute in Alaska during the gold rush. This ancestor would never gotten into America under his grandson’s rules.
(Dr. Harvey Dzodin serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization)