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Originally published Monday, August 30, 2010 at 12:35 AM

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China in global talent search for state companies

China's government announced a global talent search Monday to fill top posts at 12 major state-owned companies in its latest effort to turn huge but inefficient government enterprises into global competitors.

AP Business Writer

BEIJING —

China's government announced a global talent search Monday to fill top posts at 12 major state-owned companies in its latest effort to turn huge but inefficient government enterprises into global competitors.

Communist leaders want to build up 30 to 50 state companies as national champions in fields from oil to banking to airlines. Some are among the biggest in their global industries due to their protected position in China's huge market but authorities acknowledge they lag behind foreign rivals in skills and efficiency.

State industries have hired managers from abroad but Monday's announcement by the Cabinet agency that runs China's biggest state companies was the most high-profile recruitment effort to date.

The State Asset Supervision and Administration Commission wants "candidates from home and abroad" to help strengthen companies, said a two-page advertisement in the China Daily, the main government newspaper aimed at foreign readers.

State companies such as China Telecom Ltd. and PetroChina Ltd. are working hard to become efficient and profitable. But they face tensions between those efforts and frequent Communist Party mandates for costly initiatives such as investing in poor regions or creating a Chinese third-generation mobile phone standard.

New management recruits will have to defer to political decisions, said Albert Louie, a veteran business consultant in Beijing.

"Recruiting talent does not mean giving them authority," said Louie. "The ultimate decisions still depend on the government."

Jobs advertised Monday included general managers of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., the China State Construction Engineering Corp. and automaker Dongfeng Motor Corp., the local partner of Nissan Motor Co.

Some said Chinese citizens were preferred, indicating companies want Chinese-born executives working abroad or at foreign companies in China. Others said they would consider managers of any nationality.

Asked whether SASAC wanted only Chinese-born executives, a woman who answered the phone at its headquarters and would give only her surname, Wang, said, "Every position has its own criteria. If it does not specify, it means everybody can apply."

Last year, a major aerospace firm, state-owned Aviation Industry Corp. of China, announced a worldwide campaign to recruit managers and said it would consider foreigners. After a six-month search, AVIC hired six Chinese executives.

Louie pointed to Dongfeng's current managers as a possible model of the balance that Beijing hopes to achieve: "They are loyal to the party and yet they know how to run companies of that size."

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SASAC oversees 123 companies including China Mobile, the world's biggest phone carrier by subscribers, Bank of China Ltd. and China Life Insurance Co. PetroChina is the world's No. 2 company by market value behind Exxon Mobil Corp. and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. is the biggest commercial lender by market value.

Beijing wants to create 30 to 50 state-owned companies with "strong international competitiveness," SASAC's then-chairman, Li Rongrong, said in July.

The government wants its companies to retain "absolute dominance" in industries such as power, oil and petrochemicals, telecommunications, coal, aviation and shipping, Li told state media.

SASAC said total profits at its companies rose 60 percent in the first half of this year over the same period of 2009 to 543 billion yuan ($79.5 billion).

State industry flourished under Beijing's stimulus, which poured money into building highways and other public works, handing a windfall to government-dominated fields such as cement and steelmaking.

Private sector businesses say they were left to struggle without aid. The gap was so striking that the Chinese press coined a term for it: "Guo jin, min tui," or "The state advances, the private sector retreats."

Other jobs advertised Monday included general manager of Chinatex Corp., a major textile producer; deputy general managers at China National Administration of Coal Geology, China National Gold Group Corp. and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corp. and other jobs at China Shipping (Group) Co., China Resources (Holdings) Corp. and China National Building Material Group Corp.

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State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (in Chinese): http://www.sasac.gov.cn

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