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President Trump's New Order Gives China Tech Opportunity To 'Hire American' Too


This week, President Trump issued a new executive order to hire American. The president of one of China's largest technology companies is echoing Trump's call. He too would like to hire American. NPR's Aarti Shahani checked out his recruitment efforts at Stanford University.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Ya-Qin Zhang was a child prodigy. He got his master's degree at age 18 in China. And he came to the U.S. for his Ph.D. in electrical engineering. He went to work for Microsoft alongside Bill Gates. And there, Zhang learned a big lesson - not about tech but about hiring, a lesson he wants to apply to his current company, Baidu.

YA-QIN ZHANG: For Baidu to become a global company, we need to attract the very best, not only from China but also from companies here from the top universities in the world.

SHAHANI: Baidu is one of China's Internet giants, the Google of China many say. And while at first it was focused on building products for Chinese nationals, today it wants to lead in the international race to build mobile apps and self-driving cars. But its workforce is, compared to American tech, very homogenous. Of Baidu's roughly 40,000 employees, around 1 percent are non-Chinese.

ZHANG: For China to become a world leader in technology, I think China needs to attract more. And this is also being encouraged, you know, by the administration, by the Chinese government. You know, there are new visas, new green cards issued.

SHAHANI: According to Chinese state media, the number of permanent residency cards issued in that country is on the rise. In 2016, about 1,500 foreigners were approved, a more than 160 percent increase from the year before. Again, these are tiny numbers in a country of 1.4 billion people but Zhang is here at Stanford to let students know things are changing.

ZHANG: We welcome, you know, students of different culture, different nationality. And, you know, talents has no border.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Chinese).


SHAHANI: When Zhang stepped out of his interview with NPR and into his recruitment event, it wasn't quite what he had in mind. He'd said he'd hoped for American students to come but the room was packed - standing room only - with Chinese students. Still, he conducted the event in English and made the same kinds of stock promises that tech execs here make to young recruits.

ZHANG: Young folks, you know, who just join a company are taking big responsibilities - stretch them, give them pressure, you know, challenges.

SHAHANI: When he was done, talking more than a hundred students lined up to speak with a Baidu recruiter. Among them was Angel Hu. The 22-year-old student at Stanford engineering says in the past, a person like her would have come here and wanted to get a job in Silicon Valley but now China has high growth companies.

And while she is not particularly interested in U.S. politics, President Trump has had an effect on her. When he announced the ban on travel from majority Muslim countries, for example, she's not Muslim but she took it to heart.

ANGEL HU: As a foreigner when I came here facing such kind of political issues and situation, I feel a little bit maybe dangerous, unpredictive (ph) and unsecure that make me think, like, maybe I should go back to some society that I'm more familiar with.

SHAHANI: She and others crowded around the Baidu president to take a selfie before he left for the next leg of his U.S. recruitment tour. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Palo Alto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.