Qingdao strives to boost economy beyond tourism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 October, 2009, 12:00am

Qingdao is one of the mainland's tourist Meccas, with tens of millions of visitors crammed on to the Shandong city's sandy white beaches every year. But the city government believes its future is about much more than tourism.

Already there is an air of Hong Kong to one of the mainland's fastest growing cities, with its harbour framed by glittering high-rises, as a stroll along Donghai Road shows.

But while skyscrapers increasingly crowd the shore, there is still work to be done. There is a significant wealth gap. Critics say the city resembles a dirty cloth with a golden lining: behind the wealthy waterfront are poorer inland districts.

In a written interview with the Sunday Morning Post, Qingdao Mayor Xia Geng said that in the next 10 years the city would improve its urban planning in an effort to boost its competitiveness and make it a better place to live and work.

At the heart of the development plan are the city's manufacturing and services industries, which have been a big factor in its recent growth. They include big electronic-appliance brands Haier and Hisense, plus the popular beer Tsingtao.

'Qingdao has been working hard to raise its core competitiveness by developing good brands and observing high standards,' Xia said.

Qingdao ranked ninth among all mainland cities in gross domestic product last year, with 443.6 billion yuan (HK$503.5 billion). In 1949, GDP was just 287 million yuan.

The city's per capita GDP exceeded US$7,000 last year, putting it on a par with what is considered a 'relatively' developed country.

Xia said that to maximise the city's edge in advanced manufacturing and high technology, it would make services an important plank in its economic base, which also includes the city's port facilities and maritime resources.

'Qingdao will strive to build a green economy, by fighting pollution and restoring its ecosystem to build an environmentally friendly city that is an enjoyable place to live.'

Xia, a Heilongjiang native who was appointed mayor in 2003, said his proudest moment in the post came when the city hosted the sailing events of last year's Summer Olympic Games.

Qingdao beat several rival coastal cities, including Qinhuangdao, Hebei, to host the event. Xia said the aim had been to boost the local economy, improve the environment and improve the city's overall level of development.

Much to the embarrassment of city authorities, a massive algal bloom broke out just a month before the Games. Worse, it came after the city had invested 43 billion yuan in Olympics-related infrastructure, including sewage-treatment plants.

Xia said housing for low-income families has been one of the major problems facing residents, and the government had started a three-year campaign in 2007 to provide cheap flats. He said the government had provided more than 7,100 flats at low rent and sold 10,300 apartments at discounted prices to poor families in the past three years and would expand the programme to the countryside in the future.

Xia said Hong Kong had always served as an important bridge connecting Qingdao to global markets, and his city would continue to explore co-operation with it.

He said he hoped that big international financial institutions with headquarters or regional offices in Hong Kong would explore opportunities in Qingdao. And he sees in the Hong Kong stock market a potential for Qingdao companies to raise international capital: 'We will try to take advantage of Hong Kong as a financial centre to encourage more eligible Qingdao-based companies to be listed in Hong Kong.'

For now, tourism remains a crucial part of the economy, boosting city coffers by a reported 40 billion yuan last year. An estimated 31 million people visited in 2008, including a million from outside the mainland.

Reaching for prosperity

Qingdao ranked ninth among all mainland cities in gross domestic product last year

The Shandong city's GDP per capita, in US dollars, was: $7,000

The city's exports, in US dollars, last year were: $30b

Number of domestic tourists: 30m

Number of foreign tourists: 1m