I remember a Financial Times’ reporter once described sleepy and far-off Hengqin as “known for one thing, and one thing only: oysters”. He was perfectly right, but no longer today. Hengqin’s former barren and dumping field-like environs have changed dramatically. Its many oyster shacks and fish ponds are being demolished to make room for a central business district and seaside resorts.
Hengqin is one hour’s voyage from Hong Kong by sea. The travel time on land will be significantly shortened to half an hour after the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge – the world’s longest sea span – goes into operation. By then, Hengqin will be the only spot connecting Hong Kong, Macao and the mainland.
Touring around Hengqin, which borders on “zero distance” with the Las Vegas-style casinos located in Macao’s booming Cotai Strip, one can still feel the striking contrast between the wasteland with weeds running riot of days gone by, and the splendid Galaxy Macau and Venetian resort just across a narrow creek. However, thanks to the central government’s “shoring up” measures favoring the long term prosperity of Hong Kong and Macao, Hengqin, the country’s third State-level strategic new zone (approved by the State Council in August 14, 2009) is developing at a breathtaking speed. Shanghai’s Pudong district and Tianjin’s Binhai area are the other two strategic zones. Hengqin’s landscape is ever changing with each passing day.
It is said that Hengqin is version 2.0 of Deng Xiaoping’ original special economic zones that were set up in the 1980s, offering business concessions found nowhere else in the country. Agree or not, this ideal demonstration zone is designated to bring together the strengths of Macao, Hong Kong and the PRD. It is truly intriguing to observe how the two most distinctive cities, and neighboring Guangdong – China’s most vibrant regional economy and most populous province with 104 million people – can generate so much wealth. More importantly, how well this joint experiment in “One Country, Two Systems” will succeed truly catches the nation’s and even the whole world’s attention.
In this regard, it should be emphasized that this pilot project, like Nansha in Guangzhou, and Qianhai in Shenzhen, underscores once again the vital role played by Hong Kong in bringing new impetus to the SAR’s sustainable growth. At the same time, it is spurring Guangdong actively to explore development opportunities arising from Hong Kong’s inclusion in the 12th Five-Year Plan and a raft of other supportive measures endorsed by the central government.
From Macao’s perspective, Hengqin is the biggest among Zhuhai’s 146 islands. Its land area is a bit more than 106 square kilometers, approximately three times the size of Macao. About 90 percent of its total land area is not yet developed. No wonder Premier Wen Jiabao called it “a treasure island”, instructing the local authority to plan well for this new area and turn it into a dynamo for diversifying Macao’s industries.
The island is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer at the same latitude as Hawaii, blessed by mild temperatures. Surrounded by the sea, it offers an abundance of green mountains, sandy beaches, fresh air and natural sceneries. Hengqin is an ideal pick for conversion into an ecologically well maintained island with great biodiversity. Meanwhile, the PRD’s remarkable network of rivers and brooks makes Hengqin a natural choice for developing a water town and wetland.
As Zhuhai’s Party chief Li Jia pointed out, Zhuhai and Miami have a lot in common. With Hengqin’s rapid development, it is a matter of time before this coastal city evolves into a major center in finance, commerce, trade, culture, arts, creative industries and entertainment. It will also become home to one of the largest concentrations of banks and large companies in the PRD and a popular destination for tourists around the globe.
The author is a staff writer.