Chongqing next hot pick for investors


By Kerry Fong in Chongqing, China

Jacky Qin . . . river guide

CHONGQING, a city located in the south-eastern part of China's Sichuan Basin, is fast coming up as the next big business and leisure destination for Malaysian investors and tourists. 

This rapidly growing city, China's fourth municipality after Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, is just a hop and a skip away from Kuala Lumpur now that Silkair, Singapore Airlines' regional wing, operates direct air services from Changi Airport. 

The service, which commenced on June 15, would initially be a twice-weekly service, and would be upgraded to a daily service in 18 to 24 months if demand stays strong, Silkair chief executive officer Mike Barclay told StarBiz. 

Indeed, Silkair's market analysis shows that there is good potential for business traffic to Chongqing, and hence its expectation to expand the service. 

The Chongqing municipality, with a population of 31 million, has been earmarked as a key development zone. It is the largest industrial and commercial city in south-western China and the economic centre of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.  

Due to its 3,000-year history and an economy growing at about 9% annually, it has a lot to offer in terms of business opportunities, as well as historic and scenic attractions.  

City under water. . . Wanxian in Sichuan will be two-thirds under water as work on the Three Gorges Dam progresses. But new opportunities emerge as those affected have been moved to commercial areas on higher ground.

According to figures currently available, Chongqing attracted US$424mil of foreign investments, of which US$256mil was direct foreign investment, in 2001. The per capita income of Chongqing's urban residents stood at 6,721 yuan (US$812) and that of its rural residents, 1,971 yuan. 

Malaysian investments in Chongqing include a Parkson department store and KDU College Sdn Bhd's soon-to-open International Language Training Centre offering English language programmes. The centre will admit its first batch of students in the third quarter of the year. KDU College is the education arm of Bursa Malaysia-listed Paramount Corp Bhd. 

Nam Fatt Corp Bhd's 70% owned subsidiary, a joint venture with Chongqing Jinfa Yangtze Bridge Construction Co Ltd, completed the Jingjin toll bridge in Sichuan in November 1997. 

A Malaysian investor said local companies had been put off by stiff competition in China's west coast and were now turning to the growing cities inland such as Chongqing, which was a “vibrant city'' with good disposable incomes. 

“There is a huge group of people in this city who are eager to get an education and advance in life,'' she said, adding that another plus point was the business-friendly municipal government. 

Singapore cargo agents and forwarders are said to be to be making early moves to position themselves there. A cargo company owner who took the inaugural flight to this city said he was checking out Chongqing's export potential, which could mean big business for his company. The city is currently one of China's top 10 exporters of electronic components. 

As at end-2001, there were 3,155 joint ventures in Chongqing with an accumulated value of US$4.73bil. Of this, companies with foreign interest accounted for US$2.69bil in value. Multinationals such as Nokia, Ericsson, Ford, Honda, Pepsi, BP Chemicals, Carrefour and Denso already have a presence here. 

A website on Chongqing lists infrastructure construction projects, resource development projects, agricultural and industrial projects, and tourism and recreational facilities as its priority investment areas. 

Economic spinoffs . . . new commercial areas like these are built for residents affected by rising water along the Yangtze River.

Apart from its virtues as an investment haven, Chongqing – built on steep cliffs and hillsides, and hence is called “mountain city” – has its own uniqueness and share of tourist spots.  

It is home to many ancient buildings and cultural relics. In Diaoyu City, one of the three largest ancient battlefields in China, one can visit the relics and remains associated with a famous Sichuan general.  

A 2½-hour bus ride takes you to the nearly 1,000 stone sculptures of the Dazu Grottos, which was made a World Cultural Heritage site in 1999. Its Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist statues were done in the Tang and Song dynasties.  

An interesting sight in this city is its bamboo-pole bearing porters who jostle to offer their services to just anyone with baggage or shopping bags, heavy, or otherwise. But one does not find any bicycle here, unlike in other Chinese cities. 

No visit to Chongqing is, however, complete without cruising along the 6,300km Yangtze River to see its breathtaking Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam. 

The city, located at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, is a natural gateway to the gorges and the 600km-long reservoir, whose water level will reach 175 metres when it is completed in 2009. 

By then, the dam is expected to generate 84.7 billion kwh of electricity per year, and also provide flood control and make navigation on the river safer. 

The construction of the dam, costing US$25mil, involves 20,000 workers. However, it would also involve the relocation of 1.3 million people from more than 1,000 villages and towns that would come under water as its level rises.  

The dam has created many economic spinoffs, although there have been concerns over its high socio-economic costs, including the huge loss of farmland, the drowning of ancient temples and relics, and the loss of fish and animal species. 

Jacky Qin, a river guide on board the Victoria Queen which operates cruises along the Yangtze River, said as the water level rose, more of the river's 700 tributaries would become accessible. 

“Bigger vessels can now reach places that were cut off before. This has opened up new tourist spots and remote villages that have tourism potential,'' he said, adding that the poor communities living along those tributaries could now sell local products and handicraft to earn a living.  

Currently, tourism is booming at Yichang near the dam and busloads of tourists visit the site daily. Hotels and private companies have sprouted near the dam, and banks such as China Construction Bank have set up shop there. 

According to tourist guide Wendy Yi, a year before the dam is fully completed, the area around it would be developed into a major tourist attraction. 

Related Stories:Silkair expanding flight network 

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