AS Beijing drums up enthusiasm for its campaign to develop western provinces, another group of officials is determined to attract more funding for the mainland's flagging hi-tech industrial parks. 'We welcome foreign high-technology companies to come and invest and to bring their patents,' Minister of Science Technology Zhu Lilan said at a briefing after the National People's Congress closed on Wednesday. Various officials joined her on the platform to promote their respective high-technology parks. Meng Xuenong, Vice-Mayor of Beijing, claimed his Zhongguancun park was as inspired as the wonders built by emperors at nearby Yuanmingyuan and the Summer Palace. Shaanxi Governor Cheng Andong said he had not one but three such parks and had set aside 40,000 square km of land for further projects. After paramount leader Deng Xiaoping said in the mid-1980s that the mainland needed more Hong Kongs, every province and county announced plans to build industrial parks. At least 2,000 were opened by 1992 and a few years later there were another 10,000. The central Government opened more than 50 hi-tech industrial parks, which were designed to allow governments to move military research institutes and manufacturing centres out of remote mountain areas back to the coastal cities or at least close to urban centres. There they could receive injections of domestic and foreign capital and technology to enable them to survive. But apart from those near big coastal cities, the parks were a failure. The plots of land were left vacant when in 1995 Premier Zhu Rongji started slowing economic growth. Either the former military plants or research institutions could not adapt or the industrial parks attracted labour-intensive assembly factories rather than the high technology that officials had hoped for. But Ms Zhu said the national science and technology industrial parks had been a great success. There were 18,000 enterprises located within them and they produced a combined revenue of 656 billion yuan (HK$616 billion) last year, a 35.7 per cent increase over the year before. Now the trend is for these parks to become 'incubators' for small venture companies started up by returning graduates. The favoured parks like those in Shanghai and Beijing are to be built around the pool of graduates emerging from the cities' universities or, in the case of Xian, its former military aerospace industries. But academics fear the mainland's 'brain drain' could affect these plans. For example, a third of graduates from Beijing University have gone abroad.