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Foreigners Working in State Chinese Bureau Making Positive Impression

Posted 2014-5-28

The Bureau of Foreign Trade has hired four foreigners responsible for seeking foreign investment and will soon hire its fifth employee.

Although only two of them have begun working at their official posts with local officials noting that Foshan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade has already felt the positive effects of the change. “The arrival of foreign employees to the bureau has been like a breath of fresh air,” said a local official. The two already working at the bureau are Nicolas, a Uruguayan, and Chris, from the UK, and have been working for the ministry for just over four months.

Although some questions still remain, such as what kind of culture clashes occur when foreigners work with Chinese civil servants in Chinese government bureaus or will work be smooth or will the two have numerous run-ins? For this reason, many are concerned over the presence of foreign employees in the government bureau.

Recruitment to selection ratio is about 18 to 1.

Besides Chris and Nicolas, who have already been working for several works, the remaining two employees are working on obtaining visas and then will officially take up their post. The bureau is working on recruiting it’s fifth employee and hopes that they can officially begin in June.

The foreign employees signed a contract with the local government and were each hired as an “International Investment Promotion Authority.” Their main role is to research foreign investment, communicate with Fortune 500 executives, establish good relations to foreign countries and help attract investors to Foshan. Chris and Nicolas are also currently responsible for the design and maintenance of the new English version of the website for investment in Foshan.

But why did the bureau decide to hire foreigners? Deputy Director of the Foshan Bureau for the Promotion of Investment, Yu Hongping, told reports that the Foshan government has focused on attracting investors but has found it to be challenging. “There are many advantages of hiring foreigners,” said Yu. “They can browse foreign websites much faster than the domestic staff and can research quickly. They can also communicate well with other foreigners. The advantages are obvious.”

In addition, it is easier for foreign employees to leave the country on official business and they do not need executive permission to do this. Domestic employees are more restricted in this manner. Those who work in international investment must frequently leave the country, therefore this kind of work is often more suitable for foreigners.

Yu Hongping told reporters, that because many foreigners are very optimistic about China’s future prospects, there were many applications for the posts making for intense competition. Only about one fifth of all applicants were hired. “As we hire foreign employees it makes it clear that government has become more and more open-minded.”

According to the reports, Nicolas and the other employees have signed one-year contracts. They earn the same salary as other civil servants in the branches of the Foshan local government, 10,000 Yuan per month. They also enjoy benefits including social security and health insurance. They do not receive housing, but Yu noted that the houses that they rent in Foshan are subsidized.

Work is Talking about Projects, Not “Food and Drink”

Nicolas and Chris have had to adapt quickly in four months of working, but work with their own style. Yu explained that when Nicolas went out to meet with clients to discuss a project, he almost never went out to drink or eat with the clients outside of the office. For Chinese people, business deals are often made over the dinner table, however Nicolas had a different method. He used email and visits to clients, wooing them not by food and drink but by soft power, communication and exchange.

The two foreign employees have good evaluations from their bureau. They have been described as focused, passionate and pragmatic. They are also happy to participate in activities with their new colleagues. For example, they all participated in the tug of war hosted by their work group.

When meeting with foreign executives, time is often constrained and limited. But in the short time they have, foreign employees often chat with them about many things including sports and culture in order to better make connections. Yu Hongping, who has worked with foreign and national experts for over 20 years, admitted that he is not able to chat that well with the foreign experts and that foreign professional employees are much more suited to this kind of work.

Is there room for promotion for foreign employees if they produce outstanding results? Yu said that the bureau has not considered the issue of promotion, as the overall concept of foreign employees is still in test mode. “I do not think there is much room for promotion because the job is based on a one-year contract,” he said.

Yu has confidence in Foshan’s new program to hire foreign employees. He noted that Ningbo has tried to hire foreigners to their local government before but the attempt was short-lived and sporadic. “However, because of Foshan’s industry and education levels, we have seen a lot of international development. Therefore it is a very suitable environment for foreigners to live in.”

Nicolas himself is not a complete stranger to China. He previously studied at Tsinghua University and received a Master’s degree in Law. He chose to work in Foshan because he wanted to experience something different. “Chinese economists are watching Guangdong and Foshan. Foshan is a very important city in the province. There are many business and development opportunities in Foshan.” Nicolas is so optimistic about the region’s economic future that he had given up a job in Washington in order to come work in Foshan.

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