Beihai’s ‘pearl’ economy set to fly high

By Alfred Lee, The China Post

Beihai, though not as famous as Shanghai, is Guangxi’s equivalent of Shanghai. Some say it is the “pearl of Guangxi,” because the best pearls in mainland China are cultivated at this southern-most city. The area also has large reserves of oil and natural gas. Actually Beihai has a little bit of everything. In recent years the city, covering an area of 3,337 square kilometers and a population of 1.4 million, has enjoyed high economic growth. The GDP of Beihai in the first half of this year reached 5.72 billion renminbi (US$715 million), up 9.1 percent from the same period last year. The tourist industry’s foreign exchange revenues in the first half of this year reached US$2.37 million, up 10.5 percent from the previous year.

Beihai plans to achieve 18.3 billion renminbi in GDP in 2005 with per capita production at 12,000 renminbi. Tax revenues collected by the local government are expected to reach 1.6 billion renminbi in 2005, according to Tang Cheng-liang, deputy mayor of Beihai. In the city’s current five-year economic development plan, Beihai has targeted its tourism, high-tech, ocean and modern agriculture industries as the four key industries for which the government will give preferential treatment and provide incentives to foreign investors. During the current five-year period, Beihai plans to make a total investment of 33.2 billion renminbi in 100 important investment projects, according to Tang. “The investment projects will enhance the growth potential and boost business opportunities and thus profits made in Beihai,” stated Tang. In order to finance these investment projects, Tang said Beihai’s government will set up a legal framework which will be compatible with international practices so that foreign banks can operate in Beihai. Foreign companies will be allowed to make investments in public construction projects and operate and manage public establishments or utilities. Beihai’s government encourages investors to obtain capital through public stock offerings, equity transfers, the issuance of global depository receipts and bonds, syndicated bank loans and BOT (build, operate, transfer) licenses. Deputy mayor Tang said that Beihai is also eager to develop its high technology industries. A national-level “New and High-Tech Industrial Development Zone” has been established in Beihai, and a software development company has also been set up. The production value of new and high-tech enterprises has already filled up one third of the city’s industrial production. At the same time, Tang said that Beihai will also encourage development of its ocean agriculture industry. “Because of Beihai’s large shrimp, crab, shellfish and agricultural resources, Beihai is suitable for high value-added gene engineering, fish cultivation, modern agriculture such as soil-less vegetable plantation, seaweed processing, etc.,” Tang stated. Last year Beihai’s catch of fish, shrimp, crab, and shellfish totaled 820,000 tons valued at 3.17 billion renminbi. The large output of fishery products makes Beihai an ideal place for the production of chitin, a substance regarded as a high value food supplement, Tang said. With the area’s natural resources, Tang said, Beihai will make itself the petrochemical center of southern China with an emphasis on pollution-free and multi-level petrochemical processing.

Tang disclosed that Beihai has targeted the development of a special storage battery as the single power source for automobiles, uninterrupted power supplies, new electric capacitors, medicines, and herbal medicine gardening. This new high-tech industry will be encouraged under preferential policies. In terms of tourist industry development, Beihai’s “Silver Beach” is referred to as the “No. 1 Beach” of mainland China. The beach features extremely fine white sand, and the air has a high density of negative oxygen ions, which are “very good to human health.” The number of negative oxygen ions per cubic millimeter is measured at 2,500 to 5,000, which is 50 to 100 times the average of inland cities. Only four kilometers of the 24-kilometer Silver Beach is open to public use, and the Beihai local government is inviting foreign investors to participate in developing the beach into a bigger and more attractive international beach resort. In addition to the silvery sandy beaches, one of Beihai’s outlying islands — Weizhou island — is the largest volcanic island in mainland China. Featuring a steep rock cliff, it has been used in James Bond movies. The coral reef surrounding Weizhou island is the largest and one of the most beautiful coral reefs on the continental shelf of Asia. Beihai has extensive coastal mangrove forests where colonies of sea cows (manatees) live in a Manatee Nature Protected Area and National Ocean Resources Protected Area. There are hundreds of thousands of floating racks of mother-of-pearl plantations. Stars Island, which has an artificial lake with 1,026 small islands that used to be the hills of a low-lying basin, is so picturesque that the movie “Outlaws of the Marsh,” based on a famous Song Dynasty folk tale similar to the plot of Robin Hood, was filmed here. However, the peripherals and services connecting these tourist attractions to outside visitors still have ample room for improvement and investment. More than 110 Taiwan investors have made investments in Beihai already. The largest turtle farm in Beihai is owned by a Taiwan investor. He has revealed that there are five million soft-shelled turtles in his farm, which supplies markets in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and other big cities of mainland China. The largest shrimp farm will also receive investment from a Taiwan investor.