Why China manages to develop and rise despite talent outflow
Published: Sep 10, 2020 06:10 PM

Foreign job hunters attend a job fair in Haikou, south China's Hainan Province, Dec. 18, 2019. Over 700 job opportunities were offered at the job fair for foreign talents. (Photo: Xinhua)

Nowadays, many Chinese students have second thoughts about studying in the US. And many who are studying in the US now are planning for their return. They are concerned with the visa restrictions wantonly imposed by the US government on students from China - which is part of the crackdown efforts against China as the China-US competition intensifies. 

Now that technology lies at the heart of this competition, vociferous Republican senator Tom Cotton in April even suggested that Chinese students shouldn't be allowed to study science and technology at US universities but should focus on Shakespeare instead.

While China develops at its own pace, the US feels the pressure of being outpaced. But what is startling is that the US does not think of how to advance itself in what it perceives as a race, but tries every possible means to bring its "competitor" down. The US has unwarranted fears that China will take away advanced US technologies to nurture its own development.

The fact is that in the past few decades, Chinese students did learn a lot about US technologies. But many chose to stay in the US and contributed to the country's development. Meanwhile, talent outflow has also become an issue for China. 

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, emigration from China has been increasing in absolute terms. Little more than a generation has passed since China charted a reform and opening-up course. There were difficult times at the beginning and in the middle. Then there was the flow of highly skilled workers, as well as those relatively wealthy, who emigrated to developed countries, especially the US, to seek better education, better jobs and better quality of life.

But it was also during this period that China became the world's second largest economy, as well as a manufacturing powerhouse serving the entire world. Now China is even able to offer Chinese wisdom and public goods to enhance global governance. 

The question is: How did China make it despite seeing talent flow overseas? Why does the US, the world's biggest superpower, behave like a nervously frightened bird in the face of China's development? 

China understands that advantages with talent drive development. This is why the country has been implementing great efforts to develop better talent. China, in its rising process, has boosted people's ability. And people's ability, in turn, makes the process fit for both individual development and national development.

Still, there are numerous highly skilled people staying in China to contribute to its development. Their salary may not be high, or even lower than those returning from abroad, but their sense of responsibility and their inherent professional spirit serve as the driving force of scientific innovation and social development. These have allowed China to exceed the capacities of many developed countries, including the US, in many areas.

Take Tu Youyou, the 89-year-old Nobel Prize winner. She is regarded as the "Three-Without Scientist" - no postgraduate degree, no study or research experience abroad, and not a member of either the Chinese national academies, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. She has undertaken hard work and painstaking efforts to support China's fast pace development over the past several decades - as have countless people like her. 

That's also why China is fast becoming a major technological power - although it started out as the world's factory of low-tech products. We have seen more Chinese now coming back after studying or living abroad. 

As a magnet for overseas talent, the US came to its leading position in science and technology partly because talented immigrants could thrive there. But it is not the case anymore. Surveys of applicants and institutions suggest mounting concerns about future US visa policies and openness to immigrants, thanks to Trump's xenophobia. Some experts also believe hostile political rhetoric is scaring global talent away. The ones who stay on are there to be banalized and wasted. 

The US needs to ask itself: Nowadays, how many talents worldwide will be less likely to do their research and contribute their wisdom in the US? Can it still provide better education, better jobs and better quality of life? The result of the competition between China and the US may lie in which can attract more talents. The US had better not be too self-centered and narcissistic. 

The author is an editor of the Global Times. wangwenwen@globaltimes.com.cn