Guangdong is seeking to expand business links with Southeast Asian countries as part of a national initiative to forge new trade ties with nations in the region, says the chief of the province's economic planning agency.
The province planned to boost trade, investment and transport cooperation with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said Li Chunhong, the director general of Guangdong's Development and Reform Commission.
Guangdong's initiative comes as the Canton Fair, the country's largest trade exhibition, has faced a decline in both trade volume and attendance over the past three years.
President Xi Jinping said last year during trips to Central and Southeast Asian countries that China wanted to create a "new Silk Road" and a "maritime Silk Road" to forge closer trading ties with the region.
Speaking at a lunch in Hong Kong yesterday, Li said Guangdong planned to set up overseas trade offices in Asean countries as part of plans to improve business links.
Known as the "world's factory", the province would also encourage local enterprises to establish production bases, marketing networks and regional headquarters in Asean countries.
The total volume of the province's trade with Asean nations rose 10.7 per cent year-on-year last year, to US$102.2 billion. This accounted for 23 per cent of China's total trade volume with the regional grouping.
Li said the province's proximity to Hong Kong would be one of Guangdong's advantages as it seeks to play a key role in building a new trade strategy.
As the financial hub of the region, Hong Kong could help lower the investment costs of Guangdong businesses and offer legal and accounting services, he said.
Li also dismissed concerns that recent territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and other Southeast Asian countries might hinder developing closer trade ties.
"I believe trade is the foundation for us to reach consensus and find solutions for our conflicts," Li said.
Zhong Jian, an economics expert at Shenzhen University, said having a greater focus on Southeast Asia would make Guangdong's businesses more competitive.
"Guangdong has always wanted to shift its focus to high-technology industry and relocate some manufacturing factories to Southeast Asia that have lower labour costs," said Zhong.