Why Foreigners Stay in China?
"IT was Beijing's wealth of opportunity that made me want to come here to work," says Mao Yihui, a bespectacled, round-faced, close-cropped Italian, fluent in Chinese. Mao currently works as English editor on a website in Beijing. He loves music, and in his spare time gets together with five friends from Australia, Canada and Italy to play in the band they have formed, "Big Aeroplane," in which he is drummer. They mainly perform in Sanlitun bars, and are sometimes invited to play at embassies. To him, life in Beijing becomes daily more colorful. He says, "The development of bands here is closely related to the diversity of performance venues. As regards progressive music, Italy lags far behind China."
Alain, from France, became fascinated by Chinese culture on his first sight of Chinese calligraphy. He left his motherland for Shanghai, and found work as a teacher at a French language training center. He is satisfied with his decision, because living in China, he can enjoy full-scale interaction with Chinese culture.
Nowadays, foreigners living and working in China are commonplace in cosmopolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. If so desired, one may take language classes from a foreign teacher, eat dishes cooked by foreign chefs, be ministered to by a foreign beauty therapist at a beauty salon, or enjoy being entertained by foreign performance artists. Exotic stage acts and imported technologies all have, to varying degrees, an influence on Chinese life. Local people no longer have the impression that foreigners working in China are solely senior managers or specialists in foreign-funded enterprises.
Many of the foreigners in China today have come in search of opportunities for a new life. The country's economic achievements and brilliant prospects, and the vitality of everyday life, all combine to give them ample reason to stay here.
According to statistics, more than 60,000 foreigners have obtained work permits in China, and the actual number of foreign employees is much larger. Most foreign workers are hired directly by Chinese companies, and work in the fields of management, marketing, production, finance, catering and education. They come from more than 90 countries and regions, including Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea, Germany, and Singapore, and are concentrated in larger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Since China's entry into the WTO, even more foreigners are expected to come to work in China.
Inside a Boeing 767 fuselage, air stewardesses cordially ask passengers to fasten their seatbelts. Suddenly, the plane begins to shudder violently, and the lights flicker on and off. The cabin is chaos, rent with passengers' shrieks and cries of terror. At this time, air stewardesses guide passengers out through the emergency exit. Finally, two stewardesses rapidly check the entire cabin, and after making sure that no passengers remain, slide down the emergency chute carrying first-aid boxes. This is the "emergency exit" maneuver -- a training program for 12 Japanese air stewardesses employed by Air China.
In 2001, Air China employed 12 stewardesses from Japan, which caused quite a stir. People did not understand this. Chinese stewardesses are fine, why spend more on hiring foreigners?
The far-sighted managers of Air China do not see it this way. Li Fujian, chief of Air China's Labor and Personnel Department, spoke of a questionnaire survey conducted on Sino-Japanese flights. Results showed that Air China operates 40 Sino-Japanese flights every day, and that 60 percent of passengers are Japanese, most of them senior citizens who speak English poorly and have difficulty communicating with air stewardesses. The Japanese people lay great store by the social etiquette with which Chinese stewardesses are not familiar. In the survey, 52 percent of respondents expressed their preference for Japanese stewardesses, which is why Air China took this decision. It resulted in fierce airline competition, and it is reported that since its employment of Japanese air stewardesses, Air China's flight occupancy has increased appreciably.
Air China has made known its intention to employ more foreign stewardesses, when the time is ripe, to enhance its service and bring it to an international level. This move is also expected to promote professionalism in Chinese stewardesses.
Increases in the number of foreign employees reflect China's efforts to be in line with international norms in terms of knowledge, human resources, policy-making, concepts, service, and products. When planning their future development, certain Chinese organizations and enterprises solicit international talents, so as to waste no time in getting into international gear, as only then can they hold their ground in the face of fierce competition. This is undoubtedly a current trend.
Efforts made by foreign employees to enhance exchanges between China and the outside world have also had beneficial results. This is manifest in the person of Bora Milutinovic, Croatian coach to the Chinese National Soccer Team. Probably the most famous employee from abroad, he has brought joy to the Chinese people, especially Chinese soccer fans, and made great contributions to Chinese sports in general.
Alain, chief Framatome representative in China, has worked in China for more than a decade. With his help, the Shanghai No.1 Machinery Tools Factory uses Framatome technologies to manufacture nuclear power plant equipment. These products have earned a high evaluation from the French Supervisory Committee of Science and Technology, and are listed as a WTO recommended product. Lu Huayong, an American, and former tennis professional, has been superintendent of the Heineken Shanghai Open since 1997. He took full advantage of his contacts within tennis circles and knowledge of the game to make the Open a lively, vibrant event. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) gave the Heineken Shanghai Open a top rating.
Several domestic insurance companies have invested sizable sums of money in the hiring of foreign employees and advisers. The China Ping'an Insurance Company went so far as to invite the vice-president of a famous American company to join the company, and China Pacific Insurance has no intention of being left behind in this regard. Wang Guoliang, chairman of the China Pacific board of directors, announced that recruitment of Chinese and foreign talents would be one of the main measures taken to promote the long-term development of his company, and has worked out related policies.
The above facts show that Chinese enterprises are now out to solicit talents from abroad, and that competition for the "best in the West" has begun.
Makoto Endo, a Japanese professor in his late 50s, is planning to introduce senior technical personnel from Japan to work in China. The Japan-China Technological and Intellectual Transfer Center, which he represents, has signed a letter of intent with the China Specialists Economic and Technological Advisory Center, under the Chinese Ministry of Personnel. The Sino-Japan Human Resources Development Center, a joint venture, was established in August 2001.
The center stipulates that Japanese technical personnel introduced into China must spend two to five years here. The first batch of 500 Japanese personnel has already arrived and started work in China.
Although China has an abundant labor force, technical workers at the production forefront are not fully versed in all the necessary skills, hence the call for foreign technical personnel. According to statistics, of China's 70 million technical workers, only 5 percent hold senior technical qualifications, and the structure of technical workers is that of a pyramid. This is in direct contrast with developed countries, where those holding senior technical titles make up nearly 40 percent of the technical workforce. According to experts, China's low manufacturing standard is attributable not to the level of its engineers, but to that of its workers.
In 2001, the China International Talents Market, supported by the China State Foreign Experts Bureau, and established by the China Association for the International Exchange of Talents, commenced operation. This is the first entity of its kind in China.
According to responsible market officials, service targets are at an international level, and include the introduction of talents from abroad. This is a permanent intermediary organ and a channel through which to invite foreign experts, and to send personnel abroad to undergo training. The market is currently taking full advantage of support from the State Foreign Experts Bureau, and its main business is locating and inviting foreign experts, such as scientific and technological specialists, university lecturers etc., to work in China. On receiving requests from domestic units, the market mechanism is activated. Apart from local channels of communication, the market also has a website providing information to talents abroad.
Shanghai, which has a concentration of excellent talents from all over the country, is advancing towards cosmopolitan status. Building a mechanism through which to solicit international talents appropriate to its future cosmopolitan level is high on the agenda of its human resource objectives. It has recently been reported that in 2005, Shanghai will be prominent in Asia for talent recruitment, and that in 2015, an international talent-soliciting framework will begin to take shape.
Chen Yanhua, an official with the Foreigners Employment Department of the Beijing Municipal Labor and Social Security Bureau, says that after China's entry into the WTO, the international and domestic talents markets will link up, and that the Chinese employment market will open still wider to foreigners. This means that legal restrictions on foreigners working in China will relax. Foreign employees will include not only technical personnel, but also managers, all of whom will be welcome with open arms. Measures to attract foreign talents are also to be adopted. For instance, China recently began to issue "green cards," which permit entry to China without a visa, to foreign technical personnel, investors and entrepreneurs. The Chinese government is also to provide more services, and to designate specific departments that will provide information and intermediary services to foreigners. All this will promote China's economic development and enhance its competitive power within the international market.
What Have Foreign Employees Brought to China?
Many foreigners regard China as a good place to work. The monthly income of certain high-ranking managerial personnel in some transnational companies is as high as US$ 100,000, and the income tax they pay is therefore considerable.
But the influence of foreign employees is not limited merely to their tax contributions. Dong Keyong, a professor at the Labor and Personnel School of the People's University of China, says that it is fine for domestic companies to employ foreigners in certain key positions, but that they should not go too far in this regard. Various countries take measures to protect their own labor force, and exert strict control over the employment of foreigners. In the current Chinese labor market, supply greatly exceeds demand, so efforts must be made to train Chinese employees.
There are, however, also scholars who think that foreign employees are a testimony to China's increased overall strength. Following developments in the Chinese economy, this phenomenon is likely to continue. The scope of the Chinese employment market is huge, and accepting a calculated number of foreign workers should present no problem. If Chinese employees do not take full advantage of their employment opportunities, or work to full capacity in their positions, then they can blame none but themselves if they lose their jobs.
This is the view of Meng Xiancang, director of the Employment Department of the Beijing Municipal Labor and Social Security Bureau. He says that 16,000 foreigners and 5,000 compatriots from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao have obtained work permits in Beijing, and that 85 percent of them are intermediate or senior managers and specialists. Taking into consideration Beijing's population of 10 million, they should pose no threat to the employment prospects of Beijing inhabitants.
Opinions vary, but one thing is certain -- that China's employment system is undergoing transformation in multiple directions. The increase in the number of foreign employees in catering, hotel management, culture and entertainment, and IT constitutes both a boost and a challenge to China's economic development. Foreign employees also help in communications with the rest of the world, and can tell of the changes that have taken place in China. Following China's entry into the WTO, effectively regulating the entry of foreign employees, and rapidly enhancing the competitive potential of domestic talents is a number one priority.
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