By Wang Jiping
Since the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership was first established in 2003, numerous joint industrial parks have emerged as witnesses to enhanced bilateral cooperation.
As China and ASEAN celebrate the 15th anniversary of the establishment of their strategic partnership, the current and future state of these joint industrial parks – including the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, the Thai-Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone, the Cambodia Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, the China-Vietnam (Shenzhen-Haiphong) Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, and the China-Indonesia Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone – are continuing to capture the public’s interest.
Seeking Mutual Benefit
Founded in 1994 in Suzhou in southeastern China’s Jiangsu Province, the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is often hailed as the “forefather” of China-ASEAN cooperation in the field of industrial zones. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once remarked, “Suzhou Industrial Park is an important cooperative project to be proud of between the governments of China and Singapore.”
Upon its establishment, the SIP set development goals of “to develop into an internationally competitive hi-tech industrial park” and “to develop into an innovative eco-township of an international, modern and information-based Suzhou”. Data recently released by the SIP prove that the industrial park has made steady progress towards achieving these goals. In 2017, the total output value of the SIP was US$36.8 billion, a year-on-year increase of 7.2 percent. Its three characteristic industries – bio-pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence (AI) and nanotechnology applications – generated an output value of US$9.6 billion (up by 28 percent), US$5.5 billion (up by 30 percent) and US$7.8 billion (up by 36 percent), respectively.
Meanwhile, the SIP has spared no effort in promoting ecological sustainability, as exemplified by the Yangchenghu Peninsula Tourist Resort. Visitors to the resort can not only immerse themselves in an oasis of natural beauty and tranquility, but also experience distinctive tourist programs complemented by dazzling high-end commercial establishments.
Another noteworthy China-ASEAN industrial park is the Thailand-based Thai-Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone. The Rayong Industrial Zone was among the first group of overseas economic and trade cooperation zones approved by China’s Ministry of Commerce and aims to become an investment paradise for Chinese enterprises in Southeast Asia. According to the latest official data, by the end of 2017 there were one hundred resident companies in the zone offering more than 20,000 jobs to local people.
“These two projects are not alone,” said Bai Ming, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce. “Nearly all of the China-ASEAN industrial parks are showing a positive development trend, blooming as previously expected.” Such joint ventures meet the needs of both sides in the area of production capacity cooperation, satisfy ASEAN countries’ aspiration for improving infrastructural development and will serve the two sides’ common goal of promoting a relationship based on mutual benefit.
If the original intention of constructing joint industrial parks was to build China and ASEAN countries’ “hard power”, then the continuing development of the internet and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative have inspired both sides to establish industrial parks as a form of “soft power”.
Three such projects, all based in Nanning, capital of China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, stand out: the China-ASEAN Cross-Border E-Commerce Park, established in June 2015; the China-ASEAN Green Creative Printing Industrial Park, established in November 2016; and the China-ASEAN Esports Industrial Park, established in September 2017.
“Generally speaking, the joint industrial parks have evolved to exhibit increasingly diverse forms and more personalized characteristics, which follow the trend of the times and embody the everyday needs of ordinary people on both sides,” Bai Ming said. He explained that along with the improvement of people’s living standards in both China and ASEAN countries, service industries including tourism have boomed and cultural sectors including film and TV production are thriving due to the internet. All this has kindled the aspirations of people on both sides to better understand each other while encouraging these countries’ respective governments to expand cooperation and innovate creative ideas conducive to achieving win-win results in various fields.
“It is fair to say that governments on both sides have played a vital role behind the emergence of industrial parks in various new forms,” Bai asserted. Different industries need different supporting facilities, as well as corresponding policies, which in turn requires governments to establish and construct industrial parks in light of the distinctive features of each respective project and formulate policies accordingly.
Datuk Maniam Supperamaniam, former Ambassador of Malaysia to the World Trade Organization and a distinguished fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies of Malaysia, shares a similar view. “If a government always changes its policies, enterprises will be reluctant to invest in such industrial parks,” he said. “If a government alters its ideas and concepts every day, nobody will want to put money in.”
According to Bai Ming, diversified development will be the future development trend of China-ASEAN industrial parks. Because of the trend towards increasing diversification, the construction of industrial parks will gain greater momentum, thus helping to realize a circular economy within industrial parks which can promote balanced development in all sectors of the economy.
“Diversification and differentiation can also help resident enterprises locate their main targets at an earlier date, so as to carry out effective cooperation with their Chinese or ASEAN partners,” Bai Ming added.