As Chinese companies spend billions of dollars buying overseas rivals and their technology, investors from the country are enticing China-born tech executives and scientists back home to launch start-ups of their own. Private and state-backed investors in China have set up venture capital funds to target executives and senior researchers at companies such as Google, Apple, Airbnb and Facebook, betting on the rapid development of the domestic tech sector to produce high returns on the investments.

Other initiatives include a programme set up by China’s Communist party that focuses on Chinese graduates and academics at foreign universities. “They recognise that the economy needs to shift to higher-quality production,” said Shan Guangcun, a machine-learning specialist who recently received state funding to return to China from Germany.

“So they need talent to come back from overseas, and they are willing to pay for it.” A decade ago, most Chinese students went abroad to land a job at a well-known US company, and would have been reluctant to trade in that opportunity, said Cheng Yuyuan, an investment manager at K2VC, one of a growing number of prominent funds targeting overseas talent. However, the rapid expansion of Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent has driven corresponding growth in the wider market for internet technology, ecommerce and payments.

That trend is encouraging more China-born tech experts residing in the US to return to the mainland. “We still believe the top talent is there [at US companies and universities] so we are still trying to bring them back,” said Ms Cheng.

Efforts to elevate China to technological superpower have intensified in recent years. President Xi Jinping said last year that the country aimed to lead the world in artificial intelligence by 2030. Read more from…

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