Making the right moves
Entrepreneur Xu Weiping, known for a big UK project, seeks to sway minds with his view of a free economy in which smaller firms can thrive
At a seminar hosted by Advanced Business Park (ABP) at Xihu State Guest House in Hangzhou last month, Xu Weiping was promoting his idea of a "free economy" - trying to strike a chord with dozens of government officials, renowned researchers and business people attending the event.
The comfortable manner in which Xu went about promoting his idea was remarkable since the term is one that is generally used belligerently by private entrepreneurs to show their resentment over the opaque and restrictive manner in which the authorities operate.
By endorsing a free economy, they mean to urge officials to ensure fairness and transparency in policymaking instead of clandestinely supporting state-owned juggernauts to dominate the markets.
However, Xu, the founder and chairman of ABP, thought otherwise and added a colourful new dimension to the concept of free economy. He likened such an economy to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, which is famous for its wild animals, notably lions and leopards.
"I was deeply impressed by Maasai Mara during a visit to the national reserve in 2006, where the animals appeared vibrant and healthy," he said. "It would be great if we could create a business environment like that, but I don't think government policymaking is the key argument in the process."
Xu is confident that ABP, a developer that rose to global prominence for its £1 billion (HK$12.3 billion) project that will transform east London's Royal Albert Dock into an Asian business port, could play a big role in achieving his goal of a vibrant free economy akin to the Kenyan wildlife park in China.
"Good use of service firms and professionals such as lawyers and accountants could help beat a path to a free economy," he said. "Under the existing laws and regulations, a free-market environment is within reach at ABP's development."
On the mainland, privately owned businesses have been struggling to survive the global financial turbulence and the domestic economic slowdown for the past three years. The government's restrictions on their investments and business practices are said to be major handicaps.
Although top government officials had spoken of introducing policies to bolster the troubled private businesses, they had yet to publish any concrete measure to benefit them, said Xu, who now pins his hopes on the two projects under development by ABP to inject new vigour into the private sector on the mainland.
In London, the £1 billion project could inspire other mainland firms to seek opportunities in developed markets, he said, and ABP promised to offer such firms much-needed legal advice and logistical assistance to facilitate their expansions abroad.
Beijing encourages domestic firms to go global and a rising number of companies have been actively seeking to do so.
David Green-Morgan, global capital markets research director with property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, endorsed Xu's confidence in the catalytic potential of the London development. "It is a very vibrant business area, an up-and-coming new part of London, certainly," he said. "I think it's going to be an incubator site for Chinese companies."
The London project has received support from the central government, with China Development Bank, the country's major policy lender, agreeing to grant loans to ABP.
Meanwhile, ABP is also developing another complex in Haining, Zhejiang province, planning to turn it into a base for headquarters run by hundreds of mid-sized firms in the Yangtze River Delta region.
"We are not targeting topnotch global and domestic firms," Xu said. "Those private businesses that are grappling with growth bottlenecks who want to further develop their businesses are welcome."
He added that ABP would set up a platform to enlist the help of professionals to aid tenants' fundraising, human capacity building and business development.
Xu, 53, was born in Zhejiang and became well known in the mainland's business world in 2003 when his company secured a parcel of land at Beijing's Zhongguancun, dubbed China's "Silicon Valley".
Dressed in smart attire, the chairman of ABP spoke boldly and in a confident though at times self-deprecating manner.
"Xu Weiping is just a blade of grass on the mainland," he said. "But the blade of grass is now entitled to speak loudly today because of ABP's achievements. I believe other private business entrepreneurs will follow my steps in freely expressing their views about the economy."
ABP has so far completed only one project, in Beijing, and Xu said he spent three years negotiating with the London authorities before obtaining the rights to develop the Royal Albert Dock. He envisions developing it into the third financial centre of London.
In June, ABP had about 15 billion yuan (HK$18.9 billion) in net assets.