Fok family aims to turn hub into new Guangzhou

Goal is to see new economic zone as a place to live, work and relax - just a short ride from HK

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 5:46am

After helping turn around the fortunes of their ancestral hometown Nansha by aiding its transformation from "the Siberia of the Pearl River Delta" into an economic hub in 25 years, the offspring of the late entrepreneur Henry Fok Ying-tung are on a new mission - creating a "new Guangzhou".

Eric Fok Kai-shan, the third-generation Fok scion and vice-president of Fok Ying Tung Group, told the South China Morning Post that more investments had been lined up for Nansha, one of the three pilot economic zones in Guangdong province under the State Council's 12th five-year plan.

"We keep in mind overall town planning rather than focus on stand-alone projects," Fok said. "We view Nansha as the centre of the delta, with deeper co-operation with Hong Kong."

The family's goal is to see the Nansha new zone as a place where people could live, work or holiday within an hour's ride from Hong Kong by high-speed trains when they come on stream in 2015.

The Fok family is among the 500 Hong Kong investors in Nansha. Together they account for 20 per cent of the district's annual economic output of 40 billion yuan (HK$50.6 billion).

The family is extending the legacy of Henry Fok, who brought to the country in 1980 the first Western hotel, White Swan, in Guangzhou, as well as the concept of toll roads and bridges.

Henry Fok was among the few pioneering investors from Hong Kong in Nansha, which was then only a bleak granite quarry site known as "the Siberia of the Pearl River Delta".

Keeping their faith in Nansha, the Foks have pumped into it about 5 billion yuan in the past 25 years.

In December last year, the State Council anointed Nansha as one of the three pilot "economic and services zones" in the delta along with Qianhai in Shenzhen and Hengqin, an island in Zhuhai near Macau. They will serve as a nationwide template for similar zones if they are successful.

Nansha, which has yet to announce incentives and measures to attract foreign investments - unlike the other two areas - is looking to pull in 400 billion yuan in four years. It is betting the 127-kilometre high-speed rail corridor linking Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong will play a big role in spurring economic activity when it becomes operational.

The Foks plan to start work on three residential developments at the 22 sq km Nansha Bay, the family's complex that comprises a world-standard yacht club, a science and technology park, a coastal park, an international college, a five-star hotel, a golf club, a temple and commercial buildings, said Fok.

The family is in talks to invest in a 20 billion yuan cruise terminal project led by the Nansha district government. It also wants to take part in the planning and design of an adjacent commercial property development similar to the Harbour City shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui.

It is planning to renovate the 320-room, five-star Nansha Grand Hotel that hosted the wedding banquet of Eric Fok's brother Kenneth Fok Kai-kong and former diving queen Guo Jingjing in November last year.

"What our family has done in the past laid the groundwork for future development," Fok said, pointing at the 7 sq km reclaimed land, which is about the size of Chek Lap Kok airport, on the Nansha coast that his family has been working on for close to three decades.

Part of this reclaimed area is now used to house a yacht club that opened two years ago, designed for up to 352 water berths and 120 land berths. It has 100 members, mostly entrepreneurs in the 35 to 50 age group.

Fok, who gave up his investment bank job in New York in 2007 to join the family business, played a key role in setting up the yacht club.

He is hoping some rules and regulations on opening up and developing Nansha's leisure marine sector will be part of the district's offerings for foreign investors. At present, mainland yachts are subject to a lengthy approval process if they want to set sail overseas.