Pudong New Area’s 28th anniversary of opening-up

By Bai Yunyi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/22 20:53:39

Glorious past, rich future

April 18 marked the 28th anniversary of Pudong New Area's opening-up and development. If you want to know China's progress, you should study Shenzhen in the 1980s and Pudong in the 1990s. On April 18, 1990, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council officially announced the development and opening-up of Pudong New Area, back then just vast stretches of farmland. During its extraordinary 28-year journey, Pudong created miraculous growth and has drawn attention from all over the world.

The Global Times recently spoke with Zhao Qizheng, who was known as "Pudong Zhao" due to his deep involvement and contributions to Pudong's development.

In the 1990s, Zhao served as a member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee, vice mayor of Shanghai, Party secretary of Pudong New Area Working Committee and director of Pudong New Area Management Committee. Zhao witnessed the highs and lows of the area's progress and talked about the stories of those days.

The interview was held at the Lujiazui Central Green Land, which is encircled by Jinmao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai Tower and Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. 

There was nothing else but endless fields 28 years ago in Pudong. In a photo taken in 1992, Zhao is seen sitting in front of a Lujiazui model, reading a map of Pudong, where stood only a prototype of the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower.

"This is one of my favorite pictures because I looked young then," Zhao, now in his 70s, joked. He told the Global Times that the picture was taken in a restaurant run by a farmer. "You couldn't even find a decent house in Pudong in those days, only wasteland and farmland."

"The area of today's Lujiazui Central Green Land was once a dirty and shabby shanty town. We had to rent this restaurant from a local farmer as our temporary office, where plans and projects of Pudong's development were incubated. I still remember the restaurant was named Youyou, which showed a farmer's wish for a better life," he said.

Youyou Restaurant eventually disappeared, but today the splendid Grand You You Hotel has opened its doors to guests in Lujiazui. A farmer's fate has changed as well. But none of these was achieved easily.

There's an anecdote that when former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping inscribed the Nanpu Bridge, the first bridge across the Huangpu River, in 1991, he wrote the character "Pu" differently to urge Shanghai officers to work harder and catch up in the late reform.

Never too late

"The anecdote is unconvincing, but it's true that we will always think of Comrade Deng Xiaoping when mention Pudong's opening-up," Zhao told the Global Times. "Deng once said it's his fault we conducted reform in Pudong so late."

The central government decided to develop Pudong in 1990 against a very special historical background, Zhao recalled. At that time, a small force in the world stage wanted China to give up its reform and opening-up.

In response, Deng made a decision to carry out opening-up in more areas including Pudong. The whole nation gained confidence from Shenzhen's success to dare to start reform in the country's most important financial center.

"Once I told the Shenzhen officers that Shenzhen is like a tanker on the frontlines, and Shanghai is like the infantry following behind. Shenzhen took most of the pressure," Zhao said.

Compared with the "Four Asian Tigers," which underwent rapid industrialization and exceptionally high growth in the 1950s and 60s, Pudong faced more stringent challenges at home and abroad.

"The West wasn't alert when the 'Four Asian Tigers' rose and tolerated transferring financial and technological achievements. But when China announced its opening-up and reform, the West showed divergence; some didn't believe China would ever succeed, some were worried that China would grow to be a strong competitor and refused to support China politically or technically, and some were ready to have a finger in the pie if there's a promising future."

Regions in China differ quite a lot. It required strategic thinking and many negotiations before deciding which region should be opened up first, according to Zhao. Fortunately, Pudong didn't disappoint the world and became a new window through which the world could learn of China's development.

As time went on, Shanghai received more foreign leaders and entrepreneurs. Sometimes, Zhao and his colleagues received as many as eight delegations in one day, among which former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger impressed him the most.

According to Zhao, after Kissinger resigned from his position, many US-based international companies consulted him about China's affairs and asked for his opinions on China's macroscopic issues, such as "Will China insist on opening-up and reform?" "Will the yuan be stable?" Kissinger, who believed Pudong's development represented the whole country, paid a visit to the area once or twice a year during Zhao's time in Pudong.

More than high-rises

During a visit in 1995, Kissinger told Zhao that although Western media reported Pudong's reform was just political propaganda, he personally believed Pudong would take action instead of only shouting slogans.

Another prestigious visitor who left a deep impression was former US President George H.W. Bush. During his visit to Pudong in January 1994, Zhao introduced the project by pointing to a sand table of Pudong with a laser pen.

Bush said General Colin Powell once explained to him about the 1991 Gulf War using a laser pen too. Zhao said his laser pen was totally different from Powell's. The places pointed to by Powell would be destroyed, but wherever Zhao pointed, skyscrapers would be built. Bush said he would be willing to invest in Pudong if he was younger.

A city's history is ultimately a history of human endeavor. Zhao would like to repeat: "Pudong's opening-up and development is not merely projects and economic increase, but the progress of the whole society."

Development means more than turning wasteland into farmland, building high-rises over barren land, or creating an urban forest of reinforced concrete.

"Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought China would never be a super power because she thought the Chinese were only capable of producing television sets. Despite our ideological barriers, her words deserve pondering," said Zhao.

Zhao believes Pudong's biggest achievements were new ideas, new insights and new logic, which proved to be of great significance after 30 years.

Today, many economic behaviors seem common and are not questioned about being capitalist or socialist. However, in the 1990s, reformers faced unimaginable pressures and challenges.

"We visited Shenzhen for experience. When we saw waiters serving guests at their sides, many senior officers couldn't accept it and believed it was a capitalistic lifestyle. It's hard to change people's minds."

He felt it also urgent to improve the environment to attract foreign investment and international exchanges. "In a survey, we found that fewer than five calls out of 100 made from Shanghai to New York or London could get through on the first try, but 90 out of 100 from New York could," Zhao said.

"How could we ever build an international finance and trade hub in a city where we weren't able to make calls? Finally, we invited America's largest communication operator, AT&T, to help us build the facilitation."

Wisdom and talents

Another imperative task was to build an honest and fair environment for investors. "In 1993, several journalists from the Hong Kong-based Television Broadcasts Limited asked me, 'When Pudong reform succeeds, will corruption be at its peak?' I replied 'You will see a glorious but honest Pudong.'"

To prevent corruption, Pudong set strict rules at the very beginning: government officials were prohibited from personally negotiating land prices, interfering with project bidding or helping acquaintances benefit from relocation. "We even printed on investment promotional brochures 'You don't need to prepare dinners and gifts for doing business in Pudong.'"

With great efforts and advanced management, Pudong soon attracted domestic and global businesses and talents. US company SOM designed Jinmao Tower, inspired by China's 26 pagodas. French designer Paul Andreu architected Shanghai Oriental Art Center, which resembles a butterfly orchid from above.

"I think the reform and opening-up brought Pudong not only money and technology worldwide, but also wisdom and talents. All these buildings integrated the wisdom of world masters and created a link between China and the world," said Zhao.

As we look to the future, we can learn from our past. Zhao told the Global Times that now Pudong has to find a way to restart and create new glories.

"I used to require my colleagues in Pudong to examine the development standing by a globe. I still believe we need a vision in the development of Shanghai and China as well as our role in the globalization," Zhao told the Global Times.

With an international vision, Pudong established China's first intellectual property protection court in 1996, which convinced international society that Shanghai and China also offer legal support.

"Pudong represents the reform and opening-up of China. With luck, resources and human efforts it has made great achievements. But we need to break through and make new glories in a more complicated international environment," Zhao said.

"We should pursue high-quality development. I will never change my prediction for Shanghai: it will keep pace with New York, London, Paris and Tokyo as a core city of urban agglomerations."

This article was translated by Zhou Ping based on an article in the Chinese version of Global Times.

A view of Lujiazui in Pudong Photo: VCG

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visits the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower in 1995. Photo: Courtesy of Zhao Qizheng

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan visits Pudong in 1997. Photo: Courtesy of Zhao Qizheng

Zhao Qizheng points at the skycraper in Lujiazui with Shanghai World Financial Center at the background. Photo: Courtesy of Zhao Qizheng


A general view of Pudong in 1987 Photo: VCG



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