A view of Shantou city. [Photo/Shantou.gov.cn]
GUANGZHOU — Growing from a 1.6-square-km suburban area into a modern coastal city, Shantou Special Economic Zone in southern China’s Guangdong province is a paragon of the country’s development through reform and opening-up over the past 40 years.
The Shantou SEZ, founded in 1980, now covers 2,064 square kilometers on the eastern coast of Guangdong.
Transformation of barren lands
Forty years ago, massive infrastructure construction sprung up across Shantou after the State Council announced to build it into a special economic zone.
Tens of thousands of ambitious workers began to pour in with an expectation to transform the barren land into one that has a network of modern facilities such as transportation and thriving businesses.
“The roads in Shantou used to be quite bumpy and muddy, especially during rainy days,” said Wang Yu, deputy general manager of Shantou Special Economic Zone Construction Group Corporation.
However, building the infrastructure was not an easy job, said Xie Zhen’an, former project director of Guangdong Second Construction Engineering Corporation who participated in the early construction of the Shantou SEZ.
“Workers, for example, had to pump water from ditches because they didn’t have access to tap water,” Xie said.
Despite the difficulties, they were still extremely enthusiastic about the project and set up makeshift houses near the construction site to save time and ensure efficiency, said Xie.
Thousands of engineers and workers like Xie and his colleagues have laid a solid foundation for the rise of Shantou.
Destination for foreign investment
Four decades on, Shantou has become a popular destination for investment from overseas Chinese.
Data released by the local government shows that companies run by overseas Chinese making up about 90 percent of the overall foreign investments in Shantou. The city now has over 5,000 foreign-investment companies, with the foreign investment in actual use totaling $9.38 billion.
Also, overseas Chinese have donated 9.86 billion yuan (about $1.45 billion) to over 6,000 public welfare establishments citywide.
In 2014, the State Council approved setting up a 480 square-kilometer pilot zone for overseas Chinese economic and cultural cooperation, expected to further attract investments from overseas Chinese and open up new ways to deepen reform.
Since its establishment, the zone has attracted investments in infrastructure surpassing 18.5 billion yuan, and 10 company headquarters have poured about 19 billion yuan into construction in the area.
Shantou also attaches great importance to a favorable business environment. It came up with the idea of “response within 24 hours” in 1987, meaning that administrative bodies must respond for business inquiries within a day.
In 1987, Shantou saw its actual use of foreign capital hit $22.7 million, which was equal to the combined amount from 1983 to 1986.
The policy also triggered a spate of reform among local government departments that give priority to the efficiency of their management and services.
Nowadays, Shantou continues to improve its business environment with renewed infrastructure. In August, the construction on a subsea tunnel crossing the city’s inland bay was completed, which will be put into operation in 2021. The new infrastructure will provide more convenient transport for the two sides of the city.
“The abundant private investment has been an advantage to drive the development of Shantou SEZ,” said Shuang Dehui, the city’s deputy mayor. “Benefiting from the overseas investment, the pioneering city of Shantou will continue to play an important role in China’s opening-up.”