Hengqin seeks to woo investments from Hong Kong

Formerly an oyster farming island, the special economic zone hopes to develop non-casino tourism, financial and health-care industries

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 4:05am

Hengqin, formerly an oyster farming island next to Macau, is seeking investments and tourists from Hong Kong to develop the tourism and medical industries, according to a top official.

Niu Jing, director of the administrative committee of the Hengqin New Area in Zhuhai, said the island intended to develop the non-casino tourism, financial, medical and technology industries.

"Tourism will be our core development, but we would also like to develop financial services such as wealth management and private banking services," Niu told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview. "The central government has confirmed Hengqin can develop yuan exchange services. The Big Four stated-owned banks have set up branches on the island, and we hope Hong Kong-based financial firms will set up offices in Hengqin.

"While Macau is our closest neighbour, Hong Kong is our partner. Hong Kong is an international financial centre and we would like to let Hengqin companies raise funds in Hong Kong by listing on the stock exchange, issuing dim sum bonds or borrowing money from banks."

Hengqin, an island within a few minutes by ferry from Macau and about two hours from Hong Kong, is one of the three special economic zones in Guangdong. Hengqin, Qianhai and Nansha are identified in the country's 12th five-year plan to 2015 as testing grounds for new free-trade-zone concepts.

Niu said Hengqin could offer incentives to attract Hong Kong and foreign investors. For example, companies' profit tax can be reduced to 15 per cent from the normal 25 per cent. People from Hong Kong and Macau working in Hengqin can also pay the same tax rates as in Hong Kong and Macau, which are lower than on the mainland.

The 106-square-kilometre Hengqin was initially relatively primitive with only a few thousand residents, who made a living by raising oysters. In 2009, it gained the special economic zone status and the government has since spent 45 billion yuan (HK$57 billion) on infrastructure projects. It has also completed the 6 billion yuan University of Macau campus, which could house 10,000 students. It has 56 ongoing projects in the tourism, Chinese medicine, health-care, culture and technology industries involving a total investment of 226.3 billion yuan.

"Hengqin now has about 7,000 residents, and we target 280,000 by 2020," Niu said. "Our planned facilities, due to be completed in the next few years, will be able to handle 20 million to 30 million visitors every year. In the longer run, we will be able to handle 60 million visitors a year."

He admitted there was competition from other special economic zones such as Qianhai.

"There is competition but we are not worried. Good competition can drive all of us to do a better job," Niu said. "Hengqin has advantages as we are seven times the size of Qianhai, and we have more land to develop. While Qianhai focuses on financial services, Hengqin has a wider scope, ranging from tourism, financial services, culture, health care to Chinese medicine."

Niu said the trip between Hong Kong and Hengqin was too far now. But that will be shortened to about 30 minutes by car after the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is open in 2016.

"After the bridge is in use, people can live in Hengqin and work in Hong Kong. Hengqin could be the home for people from both Macau and Hong Kong," he said.