Space scientist turned Shenzhen party boss Ma Xingrui to give innovation a starring role

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 March, 2015, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 12:13pm

The man chosen to be Shenzhen’s new party boss, Ma Xingrui, is described as a pragmatic and open-minded reformist who will likely lead the city’s next world-class innovation hub.

Ma, 56, a former moon mission chief, was appointed as Shenzhen party head on March 26 based on his track record in hi-tech innovation, apparently to pave the way for his rise to the ranks of the Communist Party’s next generation of leaders – if he can live up to the mission.

The Shandong-born Ma, the child of a miner, has long had the makings of a rising star in the party. He was among the first batch of students on the mainland to enter university in 1978 after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), majoring in applied mechanics.

Working his way up, in 1993, Ma, then aged 34, became the youngest doctoral supervisor at the Harbin Institute of Technology.

Three years later, the Chinese Ministry of Personnel awarded Ma the title “Middle-aged and Young Expert with Outstanding Contributions at the National Level” – the prelude to a career as one of the nation’s top scientists in artificial satellites and aerospace.

According to experts in the city government’s think tanks, Ma’s science and technology credentials will energise Shenzhen’s ambition to be the next world-class innovation hub, attracting overseas talent and capital.

Since this year, the central government has been encouraging mass innovation to counter the economic downturn, calling for ministries and local governments at “all levels” to support innovation and start-ups to power growth and generate jobs.

Meanwhile, China’s State Council pledged to boost the implementation of the “Made in China 2025” strategy alongside an “Internet Plus” plan, boosting home-grown innovations.

Shenzhen might be the best and only choice for the authorities to lead this trend.

The city is already home to a number of major tech firms, including Chinese web giant Tencent, telecoms titan Huawei, drone maker DJI, smartphone manufacturer OnePlus, as well as a number of high-end factories for manufacturing.

The city saw more than 64 billion yuan (HK$80.9 billion) invested in research and development (R&D) last year, accounting for more than 4 per cent of the city’s GDP. In the world, only South Korea and Israel devote as much investment to R&D.

Earlier this month, Shenzhen was ranked among the top five world start-up hubs, according to a ranking by the respected US magazine Inc. Istanbul in Turkey, Tallinn in Estonia, Santiago in Chile and Dubai also made the list.

In a brief speech after he took office in March, Ma promised to vigorously promote innovation-driven industries in Shenzhen and shape the city into a modern, world-class nerve centre.

“From now on, I will work with colleagues, bearing in mind the mission, undertaking responsibility, overcoming all difficulties and reform for innovation,” he said.

Earlier in his career, Ma was also the chief commander of China’s Shixian V satellite project.

Over the next 14 years, Ma served as the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s deputy general manager and general manager, sending dozens of satellites into space. He was also deputy commander of China’s lunar exploration mission and led the Shenzhou manned spacecraft project.

He was made director of the China National Space Administration in 2013. In December that year, Ma announced the success of the Chang’e-3 mission – China’s first moon mission – at the Beijing aerospace control centre, as President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang looked on.

He was appointed vice-minister of industry and information technology and director of China National Space Administration in 2013.

Since last year, Ma has also held positions as deputy party chief for Guangdong and head of the provincial Politics and Law Committee.