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For Craig Joseph Heck, winning a Friendship Award is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, celebrated when he was one of 50 to receive China’s top award for foreign experts at the Great Hall of the People on Sunday afternoon.
After winning an award from the local government in Wuhan last year, the 54-year-old from the United States experienced a bigger honor when he was given the 2013 Chinese Government Friendship Award.
"Winning this award is a great honor I’ve never expected,” said Heck, who works for Humanwell Healthcare (Group) Co Ltd in Wuhan, Hubei province.
"I do enjoy working in China. It’s sometimes tough being away from your family, but people in China treat me with nothing but kindness,” he said. “Last year, I won the local award in Wuhan. That was an honor. Now to be here (in the Great Hall), is really spectacular.”
The Friendship Awards began in 1991 and have become the highest honor foreign experts receive from the State Council, or China’s cabinet.
The regulations on Friendship Award state candidates should have passed on new technology and expertise to help China solve some key problems or fill a vacancy in technology and management; have advised and enabled Chinese enterprises to achieve breakthroughs in development; or have made remarkable contributions in the fields of teaching, academic studies, publication and publicity overseas.
A total of 1,249 foreign experts, from 65 countries and regions, have received the award since 1991.
Vice-Premier Ma Kai presented certificates and medals to 50 foreign expert award winners from 20 countries on Sunday.
"The foreign experts in China are close friends of the Chinese people. They are a bridge for communication between China and other countries and an important force for China’s development,” Ma said.
"The Chinese people will always remember their contribution to China’s development and progress.”
Ma said there were more than 550,000 foreign experts working in China last year. He stressed that China will implement more open policies for inviting foreign experts.
"The Chinese government will attach more importance to the efforts that foreign experts make in China,” he said. “We will work harder to create a better atmosphere and more space for them to work or start their careers here.”
The award winners spoke of their satisfaction working in China.
"Like many overseas experts, I was attracted to China by the significant, long-term investments being made and saw an opportunity to use my expertise to assist China along its journey of development and prosperity,” said Dennis Raymond John Scott from the United Kingdom, an award winner this year.
"We hoped it would be a rewarding experience for my family and me, and it has certainly exceeded our expectations in every aspect of our daily lives,” said Scott, who works for Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd in Shanghai.
"Before we arrived, we read books and articles to prepare for our adventure, but we totally underestimated the openness of the Chinese people. Irrespective of their title, position and standing, people from all walks of life have welcomed us into their environment, hearts and homes,” he said.
The Friendship Awards grew out of the “China and Soviet Union Friendship Medal”. From 1949 to 1960, more than 30,000 Soviet Union experts from various fields including mining, agriculture and engineering came to China and used their expertise to boost China’s modernization.
To recognize their contribution, the Chinese government in 1955 started to give badges with the slogan “Long Live China and Soviet Union Friendship” and other certificates of merit to experts whose contracts ended and were about to depart.
Since 1991, in an ordinary year, 50 foreign experts are selected for the awards, while the number expands to 100 in a year that falls on a significant anniversary of the founding the People’s Republic of China, such as 2004 or 2009. Each foreign expert can only win the award once.
Ministries, provincial and some municipal-level administrations of foreign experts affairs can recommend two to three candidates for the award to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, which organizes a judging panel to select the winners.
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