President Xi Jinping has urged overseas-educated experts and professionals to contribute to realizing the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, whether they return home or stay abroad.
Xi made the remarks at a gathering to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Western Returned Scholars Association, an organization formed by Chinese returnees from abroad.
The gathering took place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday morning and was attended by about 3,000 people.
Xi said the government supports students and scholars studying abroad, encourages them to return to China and guarantees them the freedom to come and go as they wish.
"You are warmly welcome if you return to China. If you stay abroad, we support you in serving the country in various ways," Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying.
The history of government-funded study overseas dates back to late 1840s. Since 1978, China has continually expanded the number of students sent to study abroad.
Between 1978 and 2012, 2.64 million students were sent overseas, with 1.09 million (41.3 percent) returning to China.
On Monday afternoon, representatives of those educated overseas gathered in the Beijing office of the Western Returned Scholars Association to offer their perspectives on the issue of foreign study. The association will compose the discussion into a report for the benefit of decision-makers.
"Xi's words allow overseas-based Chinese like me see new opportunities to serve our homeland," said Gu Xuewu, a professor at the University of Bonn in Germany.
Gu said that Xi's speech provided a new option for foreign-based Chinese who prefer to live abroad rather than return to China.
"Take me, for example. I have stayed in Germany for so many years that I might have difficulty integrating into the new environment if I return. So it is worthwhile studying how to establish a mechanism for people like me to do something for our homeland," Gu said.
Zhang Xiaoqing, also known as Shau Zhang, a tax partner in Ernst & Young's Boston office, suggested that more Chinese enterprises should open branches outside China.
"The Chinese companies should recognize the importance of utilizing the local talent pool in their foreign branches," she said.
In Boston, where Zhang lives, there are no less than 70,000 overseas-educated Chinese, many of whom are willing to do something for China, according to Zhang.
"If our government can open industrial parks in Boston, or in Silicon Valley, it will be easier to connect this talent," she said.
In addition to calls to improve opportunities for Chinese graduates abroad, some foreign-based experts say efforts to attract Chinese people back home could be improved. They say that mechanisms like the Recruitment Program of Global Experts, which aims to lure back around 2,000 high-profile scholars, entrepreneurs and finance industry workers from 2008, have had some success but remain limited.
Huang Yasheng, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, said that policies for attracting talented young scholars back home could be improved.
"For example, the RPGX program filters out some young talent in their 20s or 30s who have not received tenure," said Huang.
"But the 10 years between 20 and 30 is one's most productive period in scientific research, and their innovation and efficiency will diminish with age. So the government should adjust the selection standards to attract young talent with higher potential," he said.
Andrew Yan, managing partner of private equity firm SAIF Partners, who is also a member of the RPGX program, complained that it does not include social science talent.
"The RPGX program is only open to utilizable talents — talent engaged in natural science research and financial services, and entrepreneurial talent. But more social science talent is needed."