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China Focus: Local government opens up to foreigners

Xinhua, June 7, 2014 Adjust font size:

A multi-lingual lawyer from Uruguay, a talented British IT expert and a Londoner enthusiastic about research, have been handpicked by a Chinese organization and assigned a challenging task.

They are part of a team of foreign employees hired by the local government in Foshan City in south China's Guangdong Province.

Last year, the Bureau of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation of Foshan City decided to hire a team of five foreigners for its Foshan Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA). The organization wanted a "more international" business environment, according to Zhou Zhitong, bureau director.

Three members of the team are in position.

Their job is to distribute international investment information, communicate with transnational companies, as well as design and maintain FIPA's official English website.

"Other local governments have hired foreign experts or advisors, but having foreign talent involved in the government's everyday work is completely new," Zhou said. "We can't be sure everything will work out, but nevertheless it is a step further in opening up the government."

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with 50 foreign experts in Shanghai last month and called for a more open policy to attract highly-skilled talent from overseas.

The country is also looking to relax its green card policy, by lowering the application and approval threshold, as it attempts to entice more foreign talent, according to the Organizational Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.


Chris Blake, 32, graduated from the University of Plymouth, England. During the past six months, he has been designing and constructing

The website, which is yet to be officially launched, will primarily look to attract foreign investors to Foshan City.

The website also contains information about "living here, the restaurants, the nightlife", Blake said.

Blake and his teammates Nicolas Santo and Abbey Heffer have digested documents, statistics and reports about the city and are trying to present them in a more foreigner-friendly way.

Santo, a 26-year-old visiting scholar of Harvard Law School, described the process as "knocking down the walls".

The Uruguayan became interested in China during his teenage years. He obtained a master's degree in law from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2012. Before joining FIPA, he turned down an offer from a bank in Washington.

"I am here because I want to do something new and creative," he said.

Heffer, 22, said the job offers a rare opportunity to observe China from the inside.

Yu Hongping, FIPA's deputy director, coordinates the team.

"I like my teammates. They're young, professional, hard-working and very cooperative," Yu said. "They make me feel passionate about my new role."

Passion and openness are qualities that Zhou wants the team to bring to the agency.

"Besides business, I hope that they will understand China better by working with us. And at the same time, I hope to see our Chinese staff become more open-minded by working with them," he said.


FIPA's move has won support from Foshan's municipal government, but it has also triggered some criticism.

In China, getting a government job involves cut-throat competition. In last year's national civil servant examination, on average 77 applicants competed for one position.

Some argue that at a time when a government job is hard to get for Chinese graduates, it is unfair for authorities to employ foreigners and pay them with taxpayers' money.

Though the foreign government workers in Foshan are not permanent civil servants, their pay, which is slightly higher than their Chinese colleagues, is covered by the government budget.

Netizen "nice2061" posted on Sina Weibo, "The government should ask for taxpayers' permission first before employing foreigners."

"Every reform will cause controversy," Zhou said. "It's true that our foreign staff take up some vacancies, but their contribution may create more jobs tomorrow."

Chen Tianxiang, a professor of government reform and human resource management at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong said other cities could follow Foshan's example, but they should be cautious.

"Many young Chinese people also have an international vision, and some are returned overseas students," Chen stressed. "Governments should hire foreigners only when they can make real differences." Enditem

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