Chongzuo, a city in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region that spans the border between China and Vietnam, has developed along with the launch of the ChinaASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). It is a prefecture-level city that shares a 533-kilometer border with Vietnam, the longest land border in Guangxi. The city’s close proximity to Vietnam and other ASEAN member states makes it an important frontier in China’s land connectivity with ASEAN. Since its founding in 2003, Chongzuo has given full play to its geographical advantages. The city has developed at an amazing pace with its total import and export volume of foreign trade in 2015 exceeding US$20 billion.
In recent years, Chongzuo has accelerated its opening-up and cooperation with ASEAN countries on the platform of the China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO). During CAEXPO 2016, Chongzuo conducted several promotional activities, including the joint promotion with Thailand of four industrial parks in the two countries and the promotion and signing of the projects in the Pingxiang Opening-up Pilot Economic Zone. Agreements on 42 projects were signed, with intended total investment of 25.9 billion yuan (US$3.9 billion).
China Report ASEAN reporters conducted an exclusive interview with Sun Daguang, the mayor of Chongzuo, and asked him to share with our readers his perspectives on China-ASEAN economic and trade relations.
China Report ASEAN: Chongzuo is located at China’s forefront with ASEAN. Its geographical position and natural resources lay a solid foundation for its economic development. Would you please talk about the city’s overall economic development strategy?
Sun Daguang: Chongzuo City was established in 2003, and its young age means infinite vitality and business opportunities, which attract investment from all over the country. During his inspection tour of Chongzuo, Peng Qinghua, the Party secretary of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, pointed out that Chongzuo should be built into a new key area for opening-up and cooperation with ASEAN, and a “bridgehead” in enhancing the opening-up of the border areas of Guangxi.
To achieve that goal, Chongzuo is facing two major tasks, and four major challenges.
Of the two major tasks, the first is the development of culture and tourism. Chongzuo is blessed with excellent tourist destinations, such as the rock art of Huashan Mountain, the Detian Waterfall and Youyiguan (Friendship Pass). Recently, the Huashan rock art cultural landscape was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We have an excellent foundation to work from in terms of enhancing and promoting tourism.
The second major task is the promotion of the port economy. Chongzuo possesses four category-one ports, three category-two ports and 14 border trade zones. In 2015, the volume of Chongzuo’s foreign trade accounted for 40 percent of the total volume of foreign trade of Guangxi. The value of its small-scale border trade was over 100 billion yuan (US$15.5 billion), ranking Chongzuo first among all the Chinese prefecture-level cities. Last year, we outperformed Guangzhou in our fruit trade, becoming China’s largest port city of imported fruit. We’re planning to work on the processing industry next.
The four major challenges are industrial transformation and upgrading, infrastructure construction, rural poverty alleviation and new-type urbanization. We hope that overcoming these challenges will help us do better in opening-up and enhance our overall economic level for better development.
China Report ASEAN: Chongzuo is an important window of economic and trade exchanges between China and ASEAN. What are the specific measures that you have taken in this regard?
Sun Daguang: Chongzuo has developed along with the founding and development of the CAFTA. In 2002, China and ASEAN signed the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation. In 2003, Chongzuo City was established. In 2010, the CAFTA was officially established. Our city has undergone extremely rapid development since then. Now, the CAFTA is working towards an upgraded version, which means more opportunities for our city.
To seize the opportunities, I think we should open wider to ASEAN and also give full play to our port economy by connecting with the domestic market. As for specific measures, we will work on the processing industry, warehousing and logistics. We’ll provide the ASEAN market with tailored products. At the same time, we’ll try to make it easier for ASEAN products to enter the Chinese market.
Meanwhile, we’re actively exploring new types of cross-border tourism. Many Chinese tourists visiting Chongzuo would also like to travel abroad. To meet their needs, we have cooperated with Vietnam to build a joint tourist zone with two square kilometers of land on either side. That way, Chinese tourists can have a look at a bit of Vietnam with their domestic ID, while Vietnamese tourists can do the same in China. That is an example of the joint development of tourism resources between China and Vietnam, a major breakthrough.
China Report ASEAN: One of the themes of CAEXPO 2016 is industrial capacity cooperation. What do you think Chongzuo can do in this regard?
Sun Daguang: A precondition for industrial capacity cooperation is the difference in industrial structure. Take China and Vietnam as an example. There is a gap between their economic development level and a strong complementarity in their industrial structure, which form a foundation for their capacity cooperation.
How should we cooperate? We have explored the following three ways:
First, we should process the raw materials imported from ASEAN countries. By cooperating with ASEAN countries in this way, we can make effective use of China’s strong manufacturing capacity to produce fine goods at low prices, which will bring benefits to the whole world. For example, Chongzuo is a big sugar producer. Currently, we are cooperating with Vietnam in increasing sugar output by taking advantage of the production capacity of our sugar refineries.
Second, we should cooperate with ASEAN countries according to their requirements. For example, China has a strong capacity in motorcycle and automobile spare parts, while Vietnam has a strong demand for such products. We have cooperated with Vietnam to provide their consumers with fine spare parts at low prices. Another example is China’s globally competitive infrastructure construction capacity. When ASEAN countries build expressways or ports, Chinese enterprises can offer them assistance.
Third, we have made efforts to attract the Vietnamese labor force to find employment in Chongzuo. This method of cooperation works well by combining our labor-intensive enterprises with Vietnam’s abundant labor force. With our economic development, the Vietnamese have the chance to increase their income for a better way of life.
Due to these factors, I think the production capacity cooperation between China and ASEAN has to be based on the common understanding of openness, mutual benefit and win-win results. Only in this way can bilateral economic and trade cooperation be carried out successfully.