Coastal district in Tianjin may well become Pudong's equal, says mayor
Woods Lee and Mimi Lau
Tianjin Mayor Dr Huang Xingguo knew he was filling some big shoes when he succeeded Dai Xianglong at the end of 2007.
Dai had an outstanding track record, having transformed the sooty, industrial city into the mainland's second financial city after Shanghai, and Huang has been busy formulating new development strategies.
A 55-year-old Zhejiang native, Huang told the South China Morning Post he was placing his bet on the Binhai New District becoming the city's main economic driver.
The district, which has been undergoing development since 2004, is complemented by a container port, logistics services, and financial and hi-tech projects.
'Elevating opening up and development of Tianjin-Binhai New District to the [level of] a national strategy is the brightest part in the course of Tianjin's economic growth,' Huang said. 'The strategy is intended to make the district the third growth engine for the regional economy after the development of Shenzhen in Guangdong and the Pudong New Area in Shanghai.'
Huang joined the Communist Party in 1973, a year after obtaining his PhD in management from Tongji University in Shanghai.
His political career began at home in Xiangshan county, which is under the jurisdiction of Ningbo. Huang worked his way up gradually, becoming deputy governor of Zhejiang in 1998. In 2003, he became Tianjin's deputy party secretary.
Huang is known for his pragmatic working style, and his development records in Zhejiang and Tianjin have also won him praise.
As one of the mainland's four municipalities - alongside Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing - Tianjin is under the direct administration of the central government because of its political and economic importance.
Tianjin was once a prosperous financial and trading hub, second only to Shanghai in the 1930s, and rose to become an influential industrial and manufacturing base in the 1950s. But Tianjin's per capita gross domestic product last year - 55,473 yuan (HK$62,880) - was only 88 per cent that of Beijing (63,029 yuan) and 76 per cent of Shanghai's (73,124 yuan).
A real opportunity for Tianjin to reclaim its past glory came in 2005, when the central government designated the development of Binhai New District, a 2,270 sq km coastal plot, as a national strategy to develop the regional economy.
The development of Binhai New District has brought not only huge investment, but also a rare chance to upgrade Tianjin's industrial structure from low-end industries to advanced manufacturing.
'One of the decisive factors for maintaining high [economic] growth amid the global financial crisis is those big and profitable industrial projects,' Huang said.
Now looking ahead to Tianjin's future, Huang has other plans, as well.
He said the city would upgrade its industrial strength from its traditional economic pillars such as metallurgy, cars, machinery for the aeronautics and aerospace industries, bio-technology and pharmaceuticals.
By last month, five A320 Airbus passenger airliners had rolled off the assembly line in Tianjin, and by 2016, about 300 A320 aircraft will have been assembled in the city, according to the municipal government.
By 2014, a new generation carrier rocket to be used for the mainland's lunar exploration programme will make its maiden flight.
'Eventually, Tianjin will be hammered into an economic centre in north China, an international port city and an ecological city,' the mayor said.