Tip of the triangle
Updated: 2011-09-02 11:25
By Zhao Yanrong (China Daily)
Hengqin to bridge the mainland gap with Hong Kong, Macao
Life is often unpredictable for Wu Ziwen, a 26-year-old photographer. But the youngster who works for a government website in Hengqin feels that unpredictability also offers a lot of opportunities.
That may be true as the local government is now accelerating the pace of setting up a pilot zone on the 106-square-kilometer island, adjacent to Macao and about two thirds the size of Brussels.
Last month the State Council, China's Cabinet, said that Hengqin would become a demonstration zone for close cooperation between the mainland and the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao.
That boost from the government came on the heels of the Hengqin New Area being approved the third State-level new area in 2009, after Pudong New Area in Shanghai and Binhai New Area in Tianjin.
Hengqin is often termed "the special zone of special zones" by many Chinese media.
The zone offers tax rebates for some of the ported production-related goods while production-related goods sold from mainland areas to Hengqin will be treated as exports and get customs tax rebates.
Even though most areas on the island are still under construction, Hengqin has already attracted many people.
Wu, who works for the website of the Hengqin government, says the number of residents in Hengqin has doubled to more than 10,000 in the past year.
Wu, who used to work for an advertising company in downtown Zhuhai after he graduated from college in 2006, says he turned to this "remote" island in the eyes of Zhuhai residents for better opportunities.
"Even though I have to work extra time quite often and I am not sure how different the city will be in the future, I enjoy working in the unpredictable city, which is full of opportunities," Wu says. "I am happy to feel that the city will improve further through our efforts."
That confidence comes also from the fact that investments and exports have been growing rapidly in Hengqin.
Investment in fixed assets reached 4.49 billion yuan (487 million euros) in the first half of this year, up 108.5 percent from the same period of last year.
The utilized domestic capital grew by 160 percent to 1.58 billion yuan while actual utilized foreign capital was $32.77 million (22.83 million euros), 6.4 times more than in the same period of last year. Imports and exports increased 138.4 percent to $91.8 million in the first five months of this year.
Hengqin has also become a regional business service base for Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao. But Hengqin's target extends much beyond the Pearl River Delta area.
"We hope the close cooperation with the two special administrative regions will help Hengqin attract more overseas attention," says Zhao Zhenwu, deputy director of the Administrative Committee of Hengqin New Area.
"Besides Macao and Hong Kong, the development of Hengqin New Area also means a lot to the rest of the world."
Construction of the University of Macao's Hengqin Campus and Chime-Long International Ocean Resort have already started with a total investment of 10 billion yuan. These two programs are expected to further stimulate economic development in Hengqin.
The University of Macao will make Hengqin the new home for many international scholars and experts, after they move to the island, Zhao says.
Though the new campus will follow the laws and rules of Macao, the rest of the island will be under the jurisdiction of the Hengqin government.
"Macao students and experts' engagement with local society will be a good opportunity to realize the integration of two institutions on the mainland and Macao, which is a good example of 'One Country, Two Systems' on our island," Zhao says.
The cultural and economic integration in Hengqin will offer valuable lessons in further cooperation between the mainland and the special administrative regions, experts say.
"The international campus of Macao University will attract people from all around the world to Hengqin, and they will tell their friends about the island," Zhao says.
The construction of Chime-Long International Ocean Resort has been designed as an extension of the tourist industry in Hong Kong and Macao. In Hengqin, vehicles from Macao can drive in without a number plate issued by the mainland government, which makes visiting Hengqin from Macao much easier.
Even though the two special administrative regions are popular tourist destinations, their limited land area often makes the local tour short, Zhao says.
A flagship project of the Hengqin development program, the Shizimen Central Business District, covering 5.77 sq km, is connected to Macao by a narrow water channel.
According to the local government, the first phase of the project, the Convention and Exhibition Business Complex that involves an international conference center and upscale hotel facilities, will be completed next year.
"More entertainment and sightseeing facilities are being built in Hengqin and could act as natural extensions of the tourism industry in Macao and Hong Kong," Zhao says.
The development is also helping the property market in Zhuhai city, particularly the areas close to the island.
In a property complex called Modern Coral Ocean in Zhuhai, within 20 minutes drive from Hengqin, more than 1,000 apartments have been sold in the past year, boosted by expectations of robust development in Hengqin.
"We are going to release 200 more apartments next month, but the price for the new apartments would be about 11,500 yuan per square meter, 30 percent higher than the price three months ago," says Yan Zhenliang, a salesman for the project.
Macao and Hong Kong citizens have brought most of the apartments, he says.
The island used to be famous for its beautiful natural environment, but the construction spree is posing environmental concerns for the local government. But officials have repeatedly said they will not sacrifice nature for the sake of the economy.
"All programs in Hengqin are holistically planned and the livable environment is the top priority in our economic development," Zhao says. "Therefore, we only approve low pollution programs such as high-end service industries and financial industries on the island."
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