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China market chaos is being blamed on the exodus of ‘sea turtles’

China market chaos is being blamed on the exodus of ‘sea turtles’

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, as Wall Street slashed jobs, Beijing took advantage of the disarray to poach top Chinese financial talent from overseas to help reform its stock markets.

By summer 2015, China’s Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) needed them more than ever; a year-long market boom had imploded in a few weeks, and the government was desperate to keep the crisis from widening.

But the best and brightest returnees, known in China as « sea turtles », had already left for the private sector, disillusioned and disappointed.

A former official at the CSRC, one of a group of 20 high-profile returnees, recalled the CSRC’s appeal to make « sacrifices for the motherland ».

« We moved our families back to China and gave up high-paying jobs, because we wanted to contribute, » he said.

He said the group was sent for special training at Jinggangshan, a former revolutionary base used by Mao Zedong during the Chinese civil war.

Their idealism soon turned to cynicism. Their pay was a fraction of what they could earn in the private sector, and the CSRC didn’t seem to value them.

« Several years passed, and none of us got promoted, » said the official. « Some of us didn’t even obtain a concrete position. »

« Just at the time they needed people with both domestic and international experience, those most internationally experienced people were forced out, » said Liu Li-Gang, China economist at ANZ.