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Booming northern port has hi-tech designs for China's financial future
enorth.com.cn   2008-02-15 09:07


(timesonline)Britain’s first envoy to China alighted at the port city of Tianjin, 60 miles downriver from Beijing. Earl Macartney described a city stretching along the river for a distance as far as “from Millbank to Limehouse”. He saw temples, warehouses and public edifices and marvelled at the astonishing crowds of people on the shore and fleets of boats on the water. Beijing is hoping that its outlet to the sea will, once again, become the first port of call for foreign investors.

When Earl Macartney visited in the late 18th century, the most efficient means of transport was in slow state along the river. Now Tianjin is about 90 minutes from Beijing by road — depending on the traffic jams — and soon will be only an hour away when China’s state-of-the-art, high-speed Harmony train begins to run this year.

The strategic importance of a city that dates back 2,500 years and whose name means “the point where the son of heaven once crossed the river” had been eclipsed by the glitzy metropolis of Shanghai and the business powerhouse that is Shenzhen. Nervous that too much of China’s newfound prosperity is being concentrated in the south, the communist leadership has designated this rust-belt industrial base as a third pole of economic growth.

Famed for its steamed buns, the Flying Pigeon bicycles that were the ultimate Mao-era status symbol and for the ubiquitous Master Kang instant noodles, Tianjin has its sights set on becoming a high-technology and financial hub.

Most of the city’s art deco villas — dating back to its era as a concession port divided among nine countries, including Britain, Germany and France — have been demolished to make way for office towers and neon-lit shopping centres.

Tianjin’s ambitions lie not just in the crowded city centre but among the sprawling industrial parks that surround it. The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) has attracted such giants as Motorola, Samsung and Caterpillar to take advantage of tax breaks and its status as a bonded zone.

China’s State Council, or cabinet, has also given the nod to the city’s Binhai New Area as a pilot site for financial experiments that city officials hope will enable it to compete with Shanghai.

Only last week, Huang Xingguo, the new Tianjin mayor, said that more reforms were in the pipeline: “We will spare no effort to increase the ratio of direct financing, developing private equity funds and introducing all categories of financial institutions.”

One of four municipalities with province-level status in China, Tianjin’s economy has almost doubled in size in the first half-decade of the 21st century, to 366 billion yuan in 2005. Per capita GDP also nearly doubled to more than 35,000 yuan, compared with the national average of just over 3,000 yuan.

Confirmation by PetroChina that it had made one of the world’s biggest oil and gas discoveries of recent times in the shallow waters of Bohai Bay, just offshore, is set to lead to petrodollars fuelling Tianjin’s development. Proven reserves have been estimated at three billion barrels of oil and gas of 111 million tones of oil equivalent.

The city’s ambitions have won some impressive international votes of confidence. Last year Airbus chose Tianjin for the site of its A320 aircraft assembly plant, its first foray outside Europe. Among 4,000 or more foreign-funded enterprises with manufacturing bases in Tianjin are Coca-Cola, Nokia, Nestlé and the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Standard Chartered has taken a 19.9 per cent stake in Bohai Bank, the first to have its headquarters in the city.



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Editor: Zhang Jialu

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