Opening the gate

Updated: 2012-08-24 08:25

By Hu Haiyan and Andrew Moody (China Daily)

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 Opening the gate

Ding Xudong, Party secretary of Jinyang New District, says cities such as Guiyang will play a more important role in driving the national economy. Hu Haiyan / China Daily

Jinyang looks to carve a niche for itself in modern service industries

Ding Xudong, an energetic and jaunty figure, believes China's inner regions will be the engines of growth of China's economy over the next generation.

The 52-year-old is Party secretary of Jinyang New District, a 307-square-kilometer area adjunct to the southwestern city of Guiyang.

The money poured into the area is behind the city's growth rate of 17.1 percent last year, almost double the national average and one of the highest in the whole of China.

"I believe cities like Guiyang and other areas in the west of China will become more and more important in driving the national economy," he says.

Ding, who was speaking in his offices in Century City in central Guiyang, says he is keen to attract investment from Europe and the United States into the new city district.

"We are trying to make Jinyang an attractive investment destination, especially for foreign investment," he says. "The fast growth we have experienced has already attracted a number of investors and we would like to see more."

Work began on the new district after it was officially launched in 2001, and since then 140 billion yuan ($22 billion, 17.7 billion euros) has been invested there, with a further 40 billion yuan likely to be spent this year.

Ding says it was not possible to develop Guiyang by just expanding the old city and that building what was in effect a new second city was the only way forward. A number of other Chinese cities have also followed such schemes.

"The original city of Guiyang just was not able to support the pace of development of Guiyang. The city government therefore chose to develop a new city," he says.

The new district includes the Guiyang International Exhibition and Convention Center, which opened last year, the 52,000-seater Guiyang Olympic Sports Center and Century Town, a huge residential complex of 40,000 homes. It also includes the China West Technology Park, a sizeable high-tech park and the Guiyang Central High Speed Rail Station, from which passengers will be able to reach Chong-qing by the 300-kph bullet train in 1 hour and 30 minutes and Guangzhou in just 3 hours by 2014.

Revenue generated in the area was only 700 million yuan during the period from 2001 to 2008 but it is expected to hit 3.8 billion yuan this year.

Ding, who speaks in a fast, almost machine-gun-like Guizhou dialect, dismisses any suggestion that the new district is excessive spending and will serve only to rack up local government debt.

"I think if you look at the southwestern and western regions of China, the debts are affordable," he says. "It is important to spend the money because it is vital to improve infrastructure since this will attract more investment from outside. I think if we relied on fiscal revenue and didn't raise any debt, the gap between the east and west of China would just become larger and larger."

Ding, who regularly puts in 12-hour days six days a week, drives himself hard and believes in keeping fit. "I exercise every day and on my day off I play badminton, which I do to quite a high level, when I am not visiting my 96-year-old father," he says.

He also has a remarkable career history. He began work as a lowly pipe layer for a local State-owned water supply company in the 1970s and became the boss 18 years later.

He caught up with his lack of earlier education by taking a master's degree in business administration at the China Academy of Science, in Beijing in the 1990s.

He moved into local government holding a number of positions, including vice-mayor for one of the remotest and poorest cities of Guizhou province. He became Party secretary of the new district in 2008 and a member of the Standing Committee of the Guiyang Committe of the Communist Party of China last year.

"I am very committed to the success of the new district since it is vital to bringing investment and jobs to the city and the region," he says.

Ding admits it is difficult and probably unrealistic to make foreign companies think of Guiyang as an investment destination before considering first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

"So far, we haven't really seen foreign companies coming to China for the first time and choosing to invest in Guiyang, rather than some first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai," he says.

But he says the aim is to attract high-tech and service industries and retailers rather than traditional manufacturers, since a key objective for the area is to be an eco-friendly city fitting in with the green and lush environment of Guizhou province.

He says he has signed contracts with the Taiwan-based retailer RT-Mart and is currently in negotiations with French supermarket group Auchan. "We are hoping companies like these can be our ambassadors to promote Jinyang and encourage more foreign companies to come here and invest," he says.

He already has some high-profile political allies, including former British prime minister Tony Blair who has been a regular visitor and former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who attended the 2012 Eco-Forum Global held at the Guiyang International Exhibition and Convention Center in July.

Ding proudly holds up a photo of him with Schroeder. "He told me that Jinyang must be a very beautiful and pleasant place to live. Schroeder said the city outlook reminded him of his hometown in Germany," he says.

No one doubts the challenges faced by Ding and his team of city planners.

Lu Jinyong, director of the China Research Center for Foreign Investment at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, says they can learn from the success of others.

"Guiyang can learn from other developed regions in China who have done similar schemes. Because it is in a favorable ecological environment it can also follow Europe's mode of building up some park cities," he says.

Ding is keen to turn Jinyang into a major financial center with the newly constructed financial district opening for business this year.

He aims to bring in 100 financial institutions over the next three years and is planning to invest a further 30 billion yuan in the center over the next three years. The Bank of China has already acquired one 200-meter-tall building and a number of banks and financial companies have signed deals.

"In the past, financial companies and supervision institutions were scattered around the original city and provided a hindrance to the development of financial services," he says.

"We hope some companies will make their headquarters here so we can attract some leading talents in the sector to come and work in Jinyang," he says.

Meanwhile, the investment momentum continues with 120 projects of a value of 10 billion yuan under construction now and a further six projects with a value of more than 100 billion yuan to be launched later this year.

"We are making efforts to build Guiyang as a modern international city that is both favorable to live in and a place to do business. I am sure this will help us to attract more US or European companies to invest here," he says.

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(China Daily 08/24/2012 page6)