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Overseas Chinese return for growing opportunities

Updated: 2011-05-13 15:04
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BEIJING -- Zhang Peizhuo, a 45-year-old doctor, got his degree in nucleic acid chemistry in Britain and stayed there for nearly 12 years. Eight years ago, he returned to China to make a fresh start and has since carved out a career in his homeland.

"I made the right decision to come back home," Zhang says.

GenePharma, the company he established in 2003, has become one of only four suppliers of ribonucleic acid monomers, an organic molecule used in chemistry, in the world. Another chemical product produced by the company is priced at over $10,000 per gram on the global market.

In just eight years, he has forged a complete industrial chain with facilities for research, production and marketing.

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Zhang attributes his success story to the new business opportunities that have come with China's growing economic clout.

"Huge growth potential and increasing government subsidies have made returning home to start a business an attractive option for many overseas Chinese," Zhang says.

A recent survey in east China's Jiangsu province showed that improved business environments and huge development potential are the main factors driving the trend.

"It's very easy to complete business-starting procedures in the United States, but it is hard to grab market share from their larger companies, even if you have more advanced technology. In China, the situation is totally different," says Pan Gaofeng, a manager at the Industrial Science & Technology Network, an American industrial technology company.

Having settled in Jiangsu's city of Wuxi since returning home, Pan has enjoyed preferential policies and financial support from the government, in addition to a significant market advantage.

"All I needed to do was to commercialize my state-of-the-art technology," he says, adding that many of his friends overseas are considering similar moves.

The back-home boom emerged several years ago, when China's growth remained stable in the face of the global financial crisis. Although China has been sending students to live and study overseas since 1872, it is only now that the country has reversed the trend and attracted its homegrown talent back to China.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the number of Chinese students who had studied abroad between 1978 and 2010 totaled 1.91 million. Of these students, 632,000 chose to return to China over the same period of time.

In 2010, 134,000 overseas students came back, an increase of 25 percent from the previous year, the statistics showed.

With more Chinese people coming back, the government has been quick to assess and respond to their needs.

"In the early stages of research and development, business starters need the help of the government to tackle financing issues," says Jiang Bing, chief representative of the Chinese Professionals Association of Canada.

A survey conducted by Jiangsu province echoes Jiang's statement, indicating that social environments and growth opportunities are the most important factors for returning entrepreneurs.

China has adopted a range of policies to improve the domestic business environment for would-be entrepreneurs and has vowed to make more space for them in the domestic market.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security pledged to step up its efforts to attract overseas students and encourage them to start businesses in China.

Local governments have also been competing to attract the attention of talented Chinese studying abroad.

In Jiangsu, a series of talent programs have been launched to offer preferential policies to these students. Financial support of 1 to 3 million yuan ($151,515 to 454,545) is provided for high-tech projects in Jiangsu's city of Taizhou.

China's industrial boom town of Shenzhen has also increased subsidies for prospective business starters with overseas experience to 300,000 yuan.

China's desire to boost the development of emerging industries will create more opportunities for Chinese people studying abroad to take advantage of, according to Su Jian, deputy head of Jiangsu's Talent Flow Service Center.