Inland region has power, resources and initiative

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 November, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 1994, 12:00am

AMAZING topography on China's southwestern plateau nurtured a stubborn inland city which refused to resign itself to backwardness and poverty because of poor transport and access.

Taking strides to overcome its geographical handicaps, the city of Guiyang has undergone sweeping changes to become the industrial and transportation hub of the landlocked southwestern region.

'We took off late because we are located inland, where beneficial policies fell behind those of coastal and central cities, stifling our development,' said vice-mayor Zhao Zongzhe.

The capital city of Guizhou province, which in the '60s was a manufacturing base for missiles, now boasts having more ammunition than coastal cities in the fight for economic growth.

'We have large bauxite, phosphorus, coal and hydro-power reserves. This enables us to develop power consumption industries and aluminium industries,' Mr Zhao said.

Officially granted capital city status in 1941, with five districts under its jurisdiction, Guiyang, hardly a household name, has a population of 1.6 million in its 2,436 square kilometre area.

In July 1992, it was given a shot in the arm when it won the right to the same preferential policies as coastal open cities, being designated an inland open city.

Guiyang has rail links with Hunan to the east, Guangxi to the south, Yunnan to the west, and Sichuan to the north. All lines are electrified, except the line to Guangxi which will be converted next year.

'Guiyang stands to benefit from the expected development of the southwestern region,' Mr Zhao said.

Growth in recent years has been tremendous. Led by industrial development such as metallurgy, machinery, tobacco and light industries, the city has the back-up of commodity trading and wholesaling.

Three industrial development zones have been designated to make use of Shanghai-based industrial technology and expertise which moved to the city in the '60s for strategic reasons.

Industrial output now accounts for a third of the province's total, which in turn makes up about one per cent of the country's figure.

Originally a rugged and remote town, Guiyang has grown into an increasingly lively city with improved facilities, thanks to the country's reform programmes.

'Ten years ago, there were few flights out of Guiyang, roads were narrow and you had to register to get international dialling on your telephone,' said a Hong Kong businessman.

Now, site works abound for new high-rise buildings and the refurbishment of old districts, and shelves in the shops are packed with necessities such as electrical appliances and modern fashions made in Shanghai and Guangdong.

An international airport is planned, the first four-star hotel is being mapped out and more power plants are under construction. Guiyang is also generating income by transmitting power to Guangdong province.

City dwellers, despite earning only about 200 yuan (about HK$180) to 300 yuan a month, about half the average of coastal cities, are willing to spend the bulk of their income on food and clothing.

'People are willing to spend. Young ladies spend the bulk of their income on clothes, and parents spend on their beloved children,' said a local citizen.

'We love food as well. Food stalls offering hot-pots and barbecued meat are packed with people at night-time,' he said.

The change in consumption behaviour follows the increasing initiative of the 1.6 million city residents, who improve their living standards either by setting up their own businesses or taking part-time jobs.

That initiative is the major force fuelling the city's growth. It is not uncommon to find factory workers and farmers giving up their jobs for better opportunities.

Minibus and taxi operating rights are all put up for sale, encouraging private enterprise and raising capital for the government.

Added to the area's attraction is its multicultural flavour. Apart from the Han race, Guiyang has a mixture of minority races such as the Miao, Dong, Buyi and Gelu.

The city's average income may be lower than that of Guangdong, but beggars are not common, probably because most are willing to work no matter how low the salary.

This reflects the healthy evolution of the city, where simplicity has not been eroded by the somehow mad and fuzzy growth of the coastal cities.

In 1981, the first foreign-funded enterprise set up in Guiyang and now the city has 695 foreign enterprise with total contracted foreign investment of US$680 million, of which $95 million has been committed.

Most foreign investment has come only in the past two years. Last year, the number of foreign-funded enterprises established (381) accounted for more than half the total since 1981.

Contracted foreign investment last year was worth $452 million, with $42 million committed.

Although there are 695 foreign enterprises operating in Guiyang, there are no foreign banks or representative offices in the city; vital for the city to further develop and to attract foreign investment.

While Guiyang saw a quantum leap in its economic development, its too-rapid growth had outpaced the original planning and put a heavy burden on the transport, environment systems and the city's economic structure, said Li Guangrong, head of the city's construction committee.

'These problems won't be resolved before the end of the century,' he said.

Chartered flights between Guiyang and Hong Kong are still only available twice a week at Leizhuang Airport, formerly a military airport. International routes will only be available when a new airport, Longdongbao, is completed in 1997.

The city has only nine hotels with a star-rating, of which two are three-star hotels. Highways are still lacking and the best roads in Guiyang allow maximum speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

Telecommunications facilities are in their infancy, and the exploitation rate of the city's rich natural resources remains low. Its tourism industry has yet to make up a meaningful part of the gross domestic product.

The biggest obstacle to development is shortage of money.

'We have many programmes on the agenda, but with limited capital we can only move step by step,' said Mr Zheng Fusheng, of the city's Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Commission.

Another barrier has been the lack of outside understanding. 'Outsiders tend to associate Guiyang with poverty so, when they come here, they cannot believe this is Guiyang.

'We have changed, and now they are starting to notice the changes.' statistics Population: 1.6 million Area: 2,436 sq km Gross Domestic Output: 9.2 billion yuan (1993) Industrial Output: 6.7 billion yuan (1993) Import value: US$99.3 million (1993) Export value: US$32.78 million (1993) Foreign-funded enterprises now operating: 695 Contracted foreign inv.: US$452 million (1993) Committed foreign inv.: US$42 million (1993) contact Vice-mayor, Zhao Zongzhe: 523 783 Economic Comm. dep. dir., Mi Zhaozhang: 529 675 Foreign Economic Relations & Trade Commission deputy director, Zheng Fusheng: 524 160, 527 004 C'ttee of City Construction: Li Guangrong: 522 321 People's Bank of China vice-pres., Luo Jidong: 524 447