Meet the new breed of migrant workers

Updated: 2014-07-07 07:09

By Xu Jingxi (China Daily)

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Meet the new breed of migrant workers 

Members of the Foshan Bureau of Commerce visit the city's exhibition center to learn about local traditions. Provided to China Daily 

A city government in South China has started recruiting foreigners as a way of making a mark on the international stage, as Xu Jingxi reports from Foshan, Guangdong province.

People are always impressed when Nicolas Santo hands out his business cards at networking events. They can't hide their surprise that the young Uruguayan is an international investment promotion consultant at the Foshan government's Bureau of Commerce.

Although few Chinese are surprised to meet expats working for foreign businesses or as English teachers, it's still highly unusual to see a foreign face in the government.

The bureau in Foshan, a manufacturing base bordering Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong province, recently hired five foreigners on one-year contracts.

Santo was one of 50 or so professionals from more than 10 countries who applied for the job. He read a recruitment ad in China Daily and immediately decided to seek the "unique opportunity".

The 26-year-old Montevideo University law graduate gained a master's degree from Tsinghua University, where he researched China's "going global" strategy, and then spent a year as a visiting scholar at Harvard, researching Sino-Latin American economic relations.

"China is and will continue to be the major force transforming the global economy, and it's essential to understand how China's institutions work," Santo said. "Working with the Foshan government gives me unique insights into China's priorities in this new stage of development."

In 2013, Foshan generated GDP of 701 billion yuan ($113 billion), via its traditionally strong manufacturing industries, such as machinery equipment and home appliances, and emerging industries including autos and photoelectrics. The city's GDP was the third highest in Guangdong, one of the first two Chinese provinces to "open up".

However, Foshan is faced with the same challenge as other Chinese cities - to transform and upgrade its economy - and the key to success is "an open mind to foreign talent", according to Zhou Zhitong, the bureau's chief.

"In the past 35 years of opening-up, Foshan has focused on a two-way exchange: attracting foreign investors to build factories in the city, and then making products and selling them to the world," Zhou said.

"However, such investment-driven, export-oriented development is unsustainable. To break through the bottleneck, Foshan needs to take these international exchanges to a new level, and that is exchanges of talent."

As a department that interacts directly with foreign companies, Zhou's bureau has set an example by building an international team - two people from the United Kingdom, one from the United States, one from Mexico and Santos from Uruguay.

 Meet the new breed of migrant workers  Meet the new breed of migrant workers

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