Chinese Academy of Sciences loses recruit over air quality fears

Prospect's refusal of CAS position shows how pollution can hurt effort to lure overseas talent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 11:38pm

A leading academic research institute in Beijing has said a potential recruit working in America has declined a job offer due to air pollution, bolstering concerns that the capital's worsening smog problem is scaring away more overseas job prospects.

"One of our top recruits in the end chose to stay in the United States due to the frequent smog in Beijing this year," Wang Xiujie , a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the
China Youth Daily.

Wang, who works with the academy's Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, where the position was offered, listed environmental pollution as one of the major obstacles for the country in its high-profile campaign to lure back Chinese academic talent from overseas.

The setback for the academy comes after the capital was shrouded in smog for much of the National Day "golden week" holiday last week. The city's air quality depends heavily on weather conditions, with colder weather bringing more smog as residents ramp up heaters.

Winds yesterday cleared away much of the pollution present in recent days, turning the air quality from "severely polluted" in the morning to "good" around noon. But the strong winds also led to Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's giant Rubber Duck, on display in Beijing's Summer Palace until October 26, being deflated.

Besides pollution, concerns over high property prices and poor food safety standards on the mainland were also cited as reasons deterring overseas professionals from moving back, Wang said.

The central government launched its "thousand talents" programme in 2008 to lure back professionals who have been educated overseas, in a bid to boost the country's innovation capacity and competitiveness.

A study by the US-based Health Effects Institute in April said that air pollution led to 1.2 million early deaths in China in 2010. Earlier, a joint study by Greenpeace and Peking University estimated that the tiny particulate pollutants that cause smog resulted in 8,572 deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian that year.

Authorities said lingering smog last winter covered nearly a quarter of the country's territory and affected about 600 million people. Public grievances over poor air quality have prompted the central government to release new plans to tackle air pollution over the next five years.

From January to June, foreign visitors to China fell 5 per cent compared with last year, according to the China National Tourism Administration, a drop partly attributed to worsening air.