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Business trends

Chinese tech salaries jump in global race for talent

Companies spend big to lure data and AI scientists

Chinese tech companies are dangling huge salaries to lure talent.

TOKYO/NEW YORK -- Chinese food delivery and online services company Meituan Dianping is hungry for talent.

In Beijing, the Tencent Holdings-backed corporation is looking for a machine-learning specialist who can help advance its driverless delivery project, and an algorithm team leader who can optimize its supply, storage, and delivery systems.

Meituan is offering salaries of up to $188,000 and $177,000, respectively, as the loss-making company hurries to bring down the ever-rising cost for delivery drivers.

Meituan is just one of many Chinese companies willing to pay big money to attract top tech talent. Some are padding up benefits other than salaries, such as Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent, which offer interest-free loans for staff to purchase homes. JD.com offers free day care service to look after employees' children. 

According to global recruitment company Hays, data scientists in China have seen some of the biggest gains in compensation. The highest salaries in that specialty rose 67% since last year to 1 million yuan ($147,600). That is more than in either Singapore or Japan, where salaries for similar positions top out around $133,000 and $109,000, respectively.

The Hays report, published on Feb. 7, provides salary information for a range of technology positions, including artificial intelligence developers and cybersecurity consultants, in five Asian economies -- the three above plus Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Demand for artificial intelligence professionals is also high, the figures indicates. In China, AI developers can earn up to around $120,000 annually, up 60% from a year ago, while such salaries in Japan have risen 20% to roughly $110,000.

China's IT giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu rely on big data analysts to improve customer experience and develop new services. AI is also crucial in developing self-driving cars, a sector that many automakers are eager to enter.

"Demand is increasing every year and technology is advancing at such a pace that workers need to be constantly upskilled," said Marc Burrage, managing director of Hays' Japan division. "Supply cannot keep up, so this is the consequence, especially when scarce talent is more mobile regionally and globally."

These higher salaries in China seem to be working. A manager at Tokyo-based hiring agency JAC Recruitment in charge of China said, "Even some [Chinese] engineers who studied Japanese don't choose Japanese companies because the salaries are low."

Some Chinese companies are even paying more than their rivals in the U.S. and Europe. According to London-based recruitment agency Robert Walters, IT directors in Shanghai can earn between 1.2 million to 2 million yuan, higher than in London, where salaries for similar positions are 85,000 pounds to 150,000 pounds ($109,556-$193,335).

China is not the only place where companies are spending more to secure tech talent.

Salaries in India and Vietnam are expected to grow roughly 10% each year, according to Toshihiro Kurozawa, principal analyst at JAC. Pay in Malaysia and Indonesia is seen growing around 5%, while the rise in Singapore will be about 3% per year, he added.

"The number of workers [in these markets] with an advanced education is limited, Kurozawa said. "Lack of supply is one of the reasons for rising salaries."

While increases in minimum wages are one factor in the overall increase, he also said that "particularly large wage increases are seen for IT staff and other positions for which there are limited candidates available."

Many IT startups in these countries are rapidly growing, such as Indonesia's Go-Jek and Singapore's Grab. Aggressive hiring by these companies means that salaries for IT-related positions tend to be higher at local companies than at Japanese affiliates in the same markets.

In Indonesia, according to JAC, salaries for technical directors who speak English are between 1.12 billion and 3.25 billion rupiah ($79,130-$229,610), on par with those offered by Western multinationals. The highest salaries for similar positions at Japanese companies in Indonesia are just 1.4 billion rupiah.

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