Zhuhai grows at rapid pace under ‘Belt and Road’ initiative

By Chen Qingqing in Zhuhai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/20 19:48:39

Building up the coast

In March 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce jointly proposed an action plan for the "One Belt and One Road" initiative that aims to leverage the strengths of coastal regions like the Pearl River Delta and advance the development of several pilot free trade zones, including the one in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province. Zhuhai was among the first cities to launch economic reforms more than three decades ago. Currently, the "B&R" initiative gives the city new opportunities to strengthen ties with Hong Kong, Macao and the global market. The Global Times recently visited several landmark projects in Zhuhai to see how long it will take to fully integrate the city under the initiative. This story is the second in a two-part series.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which will link the three regions, overcame complex engineering problems to be built. Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

Tian Hong, a pioneer in marine heavy industry, moved to Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province, two years ago to help establish SANY Group's marine industry zone near the port of Gaolan, in Zhuhai.

Located in western Zhuhai, the marine industry zone, considered a bellwether for the country's coastal industry, is set to become a new industrial base for marine machinery and clean energy.

"The first phase of this zone is about 800 mu [53.3 hectares], and it will expand to 6,000 mu [400 hectares] through the second and third phases," Tian said, pointing to a vast undeveloped area outside his office window.

The company's board has still not decided a timeline for the second and third phases, according to Tian.

Established in June 2015, SANY Marine Heavy Industry Co, a subsidiary of SANY Hong Kong Group Ltd, has settled in the area to manufacture port machinery and ship engineering equipment.

"For us, port equipment is an indispensable part of the 'One Belt and One Road' initiative, because building ports to handle freight is a crucial part of the initiative," Tian told the Global Times on February 14.

The company ships its machinery, such as rail-mounted container gantry cranes, to domestic destinations as well as other counties, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

"Over the next five years, we aim to make about 8 billion yuan ($1.16 billion) in sales, 60 percent of which will be in overseas market," Tian said.

Several cranes have been erected in the industrial zone, only a few miles away from the port of Zhuhai, which encompasses the Gaolan port area. Workers were testing a container gantry crane, which will be soon shipped to India.

Companies investing in the port of Zhuhai are not the only ones eyeing business opportunities from the "B&R" initiative. The port itself has taken part in the "B&R" initiative projects, including one to enhance logistics connections with western provinces such as Southwest China's Guizhou Province.

The port is also involved in the development of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, according to an e-mail the Zhuhai Development and Reform Commission sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.

For instance, the cooperation between the Zhuhai and Gwadar ports comprises exploring new shipping routes and strengthening the Chinese port as a logistics point to tap into the South Asian and Southeast Asian markets.

Zhuhai has also been stepping up efforts to advance the development of Hong Kong, Macao and the Chinese mainland through the Hengqin Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ).

Located in a strategic position, with Hengqin's nearest point to Macao about 187 meters and 34 nautical miles from Hong Kong, the FTZ can be easily accessed from five international airports and four deep-sea ports, such as Hong Kong International Airport and Macao International Airport.

Construction sites were seen almost everywhere in the zone. Cranes and bulldozers passed through, piling up huge mounds of dirt. Local people called the new residential property projects in this area "a new investment magnet."

Open questions

So far, 20,000 enterprises have been established in the FTZ, including 1,259 from Hong Kong and Macao, said a local official, who preferred not to be identified.

 "I came here to launch my start-up mainly because we don't have to pay rent for this office during the first year of operation," said Chen Qiwei, a 27-year-old graduate from the University of Macao.

Chen and four partners design and manufacture automated boats.

The office, which is less than 40 square meters, comes with basic office furniture, including chairs and desks, "though I had to supply the computers," he said.

Chen's company is one example of a start-up running in Hengqin Innovalley, a project for aggregating start-ups.

Hengqin Financial Investment Co has funded the project, which is one project in the FTZ that has seen "significant progress."

However, it is still up in the air who will invest in Chen's business.

It takes only one day to register an enterprise in the zone, but it is expected that local authorities will ramp up supervision, the official told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the FTZ opening to Macao has driven increasing number of homebuyers from the special administrative region to buy houses on the mainland because the average home price in Macao is about 100,000 Macao pataca ($12,509) per square meter, which is too high for many to afford.

"Now, the average home price here has reached 50,000 yuan ($7,930) [per square meter], which is still cheaper than across the bridge," said a taxi driver in Hengqin, who refused to be named.

Determining how to attract more trade enterprises will likely enhance the FTZ's connection with the global market, the official noted. "But it's still an open question," he said.

A showcase project

Miles away from the Hengqin FTZ, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge - one of the most anticipated infrastructure projects in the world - is expected to reach the conditions of opening to traffic by the end of 2017, said Wei Dongqing, the deputy Party secretary and director of administration of the bridge authority.

The 55-kilometer-long bridge will reshape transportation in the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong and Macao, which will better integrate the region into the "B&R" initiative, Wei said.

"Most importantly, it has set an example for infrastructure projects led by Chinese companies because the construction of this bridge has achieved major breakthroughs," he told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Technical challenges during the complex process mainly come from building a link that incorporates bridges, artificial islands and the longest immersed tunnel in open water under complicated hydrogeological conditions, according to the authority.

A construction philosophy they adopt is maximizing work on land by precasting parts such as tunnel elements, bridge piers and bridge girders in the factories all over China, and minimizing work on the sea by assembling the elements with major equipment like floating cranes.

"The completion of this bridge is just another example of how Chinese infrastructure construction and technology have come to be leaders worldwide," Wei said.

Posted in: INSIGHT

blog comments powered by Disqus