A man operates a mechanical arm at the 2019 International Conference on Industrial Internet in Chengdu, Sichuan Province in southwest China, on June 15, 2019 (XINHUA)
On my one-week field trip to Chengdu in Sichuan Province, southwest China, in November 2019, the city was bubbling with life, its dishes were tasty, and the business environment felt welcoming.
I was most intrigued by the international railway system and the industrial parks I saw. These reinforced my thought that China's dedication to grow is something other developing nations can emulate. I sensed a commitment from the central to the provincial and township authorities to push for all-round human and capital development of the nation through bilateral relations with the rest of the world. One area of my focus was the Center for China-Europe Cooperation (CCEC).
Established on May 10, 2017 in the Chengdu Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone, the CCEC is an initiative to boost China-Europe business and trade relations. It is the first platform for Sino-EU cooperation established by the Chengdu Municipal Government with the EU Project Innovation Center, with support from the EU Commission and the Chinese ministries of science and technology and commerce.
The zone provides an enabling environment—favorable policies, tax exemptions and infrastructure—that European (small and medium-sized) enterprises and research institutions need to found their offices, gain international competitive advantage and explore business opportunities in Chengdu. It could be called the European trade, exchange and service center in China.
The CCEC and Chengdu stand at a strategic intersection of the Belt and Road Initiative. As the inland junction of the initiative, Chengdu has created direct and indirect trade networks with over 220 cities worldwide through its rail lines. These railways operate six to seven times per week on average, transporting voluminous quantities of goods and offering cheaper and faster freight than road, air and ocean shipments. Already, goods from China are transported into Europe and back through several corridors between them, which began operation in 2013. These lines are catalysts for increased investment in Chengdu and increased international trade. It is believed that with the construction of these rails and Chengdu's proximity to Europe, the volume of international trade will increase in all regions connected with the rail lines. These rails constitute a fundamental investment to drive the future of China-EU trade relations, with the CCEC being the hub of these collaborative efforts.
The CCEC is home to a number of large Western firms like Amazon and IBM. In fact, its location in the hi-tech zone places these firms in a great position to network and exchange ideas with the other Fortune 500 Companies like Dell, Intel, Alibaba and Tencent. The zone has attracted about 337.8 billion yuan ($47.7 billion) worth of foreign trade.
With initiatives like the CCEC, the Chengdu Municipal Government is trying to put the city on the global commercial map. Chengdu, once known for its pandas and mouth-watering dishes like the hotpot, is now competing with first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. The innovativeness of Chengdu, and its ability to meet a key demand of the time—faster and cheaper freight—has been appreciated by the international community.
Chengdu also possesses some of China's best universities and these serve as a ready talent pool from which international firms can source fresh talent. Let us also not forget its moderate living and housing costs. Little wonder that the city ranked No.1, above the first-tier cities, in the Best-Performing Cities China 2019 report by the Milken Institute, an economic think tank in California, the U.S. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The EU Commission has seen this and is investing massively to benefit from Chengdu's exponential growth. I believe soon other nations, businesses and private individuals will realize this too and more Fortune 500 companies will set up their bases in the city, boosting public-private partnership.
The author is a Yenching Academy scholar at Peking University from Nigeria
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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