Chen Deliang (left) conducts research in the Tibet autonomous region.
News that Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft Corp, had been elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering－the only nonacademic invited to join this year－has put overseas academicians and the role of foreign experts in the spotlight.
This year, the academy and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the country's leading research institutes, elected a record number of foreign scientists and experts. The engineering academy elected 18, while the science academy invited 16.
The number of new members of the science academy had never exceeded 14 since the first group of foreign academics was elected in 1994, while the engineering academy had never before selected more than 10 new members in one year.
The think tanks, which are directly affiliated with the State Council, China's Cabinet, conduct research in the fields of science, technology and engineering, in addition to advising the government and cultivating talent at universities they have established or cooperate with.
"China now values talent more than ever before. We encourage foreign experts to participate in selections for the country's science and technology awards, and their standing is equal to their Chinese colleagues," said Zhang Jianguo, administrator of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.
The admission procedure is rigorous. Non-Chinese candidates require at least five nominations, compared with three for Chinese nationals, and they must win the approval of at least two-thirds of experts who vote to be selected.
Only foreign talent with high international reputations and a record of contributing to the development of science, technology and engineering in China, and long experience of international exchanges, can be eligible for membership.
For example, Man-Chung Tang, a member of the National Academy of Engineering in the United States who was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2000, led design and construction projects for a number of bridges in China, including the Yangpu Bridge in Shanghai and the Yangtze Bridge in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province.
Meanwhile, David Ho, who was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2003, improved the lives of people with HIV/AIDS by helping to develop combination anti-retroviral therapy.
Chen Deliang, a Chinese-born Swedish climatologist who was elected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences this year, has noticed a growing interest in overseas talent and a greater openness toward foreign experts.