High tech and high talents – Building bridges between the UK and China
February 24 was a red-letter day for Cambridge and UK-China relationships in a number of ways, writes Professor Alan Barrell and Hui Tong.
At the House of Lords, Baroness Kramer hosted a distinguished delegation led by Mr Wen Su, Deputy Director-General of Sichuan Foreign Overseas Chinese Affairs Department from Sichuan Province in China, representing the provincial government and the Western China Overseas Hi-Tech Talents Conference (OHTC).
OHTC, established in 1995, has become one of the most influential organisations in building educational, trade and investment links between this flourishing part of China and the West.
The delegation also met the Chinese Ambassador at the Embassy in London and moved on to Cambridge for a seminar entitled ‘China and Cambridge in Tomorrow’s World.’
The initiative was designed to enhance collaboration in education, research, trade and investment with special focus on the next generations of UK and Chinese people in a brave new world of scientific & technological discovery and cross-border information exchange – an enormous opportunity.
Since its foundation OHTC has organised annually a major international conference, attracting scholars – including Nobel laureates – from all over the world – to Chengdu, the Sichuan Provincial Capital.
This has resulted in some remarkable achievements in terms of cross-border matchmaking and supporting the career advancement of a great many talented entrepreneurs.
At the 2016 conference, 580 professionals from 33 countries attended. Twenty matchmaking events for talents and technologies were held and no less than 89 hi-tech collaborations started up – together valued by the organisers at 38.28 billion RMB (£4bn). The 2017 conference will be focused even more strongly on innovation – seeking to make a significant contribution to the building of a truly innovative China.
Delegation leader Mr Wen Su spoke of the interest of his team and his government to forge strong ties with the UK and centres especially keen to develop partnerships with OHTC to turn good ideas about collaboration into real programmes.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed pledging engagement by UK parliamentary groups, universities and industry to work with OHTC to organise export delegations and support overseas projects in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship. UK signatories agreed to support OHTC annual conferences and encourage Institutions and learned societies in the UK to participate fully.
The House of Lords event represented the beginning of a new phase of practical collaboration at a time in the UK, post-Brexit, when the potential value of China-UK collaborations cannot be over-estimated.
The delegation was welcomed to the Cambridge seminar at Gonville & Caius College by the Mayor of Cambridge, Jeremy Benstead. ￼Mr Wen Su provided more details on Sichuan and Chengdu to give delegates an appetite to visit; he also outlined the role and purpose of OHTC.
Asked what made Sichuan Province, among the 12 provinces in Western China, the most advantageous in attracting overseas talents, Mr Wen Su said: “Firstly, the cultural atmosphere in Sichuan is prosperous; Sichuan has the Bashu Culture and possesses five world heritage sites.
“Secondly, the living environment is one of the best in China: Chengdu has been ranked among the highest for quality of living in China. Thirdly, the potential for development is enormous. Sichuan now ranks the sixth in GDP among all provinces in China and is one of the most globalised. Lastly, central policies are in favour of Sichuan as the hotspot for economic reforms.”
Mr Liu Xiaobao, Deputy Division-Director of Sichuan Talent Office, addressed the opportunities in Sichuan and its main centres. He said: “Governmental subsidies will continue to support overseas talents who want to start their own projects in Sichuan as a part of the ‘Thousand-Talent Project’ in China.
Mr Wen Su added: “In some of the technological and innovative areas China is still short of talents and domestic talents cannot fill the gap.” This was one of the reasons the delegation came to Cambridge to broaden the search for talent, he said.
Before networking, attendees witnessed the official signing of the MoU and noted the commitments to turn good intentions into active programmes and good business; to work across borders and cultures; to encourage and enable the next generations of two great nations to build more bridges, collaborate more effectively and seek collective progress in making the world a better place for all.
BBD UK, which hosted the delegation, is a leading Big Data company born in Chengdu and now ranked one of the top 50 Fintech companies in China and among the fastest growing of its kind in the world.
BBD’s expansion to the UK is a fine example of UK and China collaboration in the area of hi-tech and high talents. With a European headquarters in London and an R & D centre in Cambridge, BBD UK is significantly engaged in the ongoing support of OHTC.
Both Helen Wang, BBD UK CEO, and chairman Alan Barrell were signatories of the MoU and have formed a committee to maintain regular communication with OHTC. This will be a panel of senior academics and entrepreneurs.
One of the first actions of the group will be to plan the visit of a delegation from the UK to take part in the next annual OHTC event in Chengdu in September.
The UK delegation will lead a specific event during the conference – focused on OHTC-UK collaborations. Investors in China will be connected directly with promising UK startups – including some from Cambridge – to enable access to the Chinese market and speed the international scale-up of hi-tech companies.
Special support will be given to Cambridge technology companies considered ‘China Ready’ – preparing them to present at the OHTC Conference, where winners will not only receive cash prizes but also be connected with marketing partners as well as investors.
Helen Wang said: “Being a native Sichuan person living and working in the UK for more than 17 years and having first hand experiences in UK & China collaboration, I believe BBD UK is a great example of such spirit and the firm has benefited from the ever-growing activities between the two nations.
“Despite being a Chinese-rooted company, BBD UK feels that we have fully blended into the Cambridge Phenomenon.”
• Photograph at the top of this page shows dignitaries at the MoU signing.