Less developed western Guangdong will host its first trade fair targeting overseas Chinese business people in Asean countries next month in a bid to boost the local economy.
Liu Xiaojie, deputy secretary general of Guangdong's provincial government, told a press conference yesterday that the first national trade fair involving Chinese merchants in Asean countries would be held in Zhanjiang from April 10 to 12.
"This will have a significant impact in fostering western Guangdong's social and economic development," Liu said.
The Asean bloc - which comprises the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar - is China's fourth-largest trading partner. But some of its members are also involved in heated territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Liu said the fair was designed to boost ties between western Guangdong and Asean countries, echoing Guangdong Communist Party secretary Hu Chunhua's call for the speeding up of economic development.
He said 350 guests, including Chinese merchants from Asean countries and regional media, would be invited. They will also tour Zhanjiang's major harbour projects, such as the Sino-Kuwait Guangdong integrated refinery and petrochemical project, and the Zhanjiang iron and steel hub.
Efforts would also focus on investment for the Guangdong (Fengyong) industries park on Zhanjiang's Leizhou Peninsula.
Chen Yuehua, deputy director of Guangdong's foreign trade and economic co-operation department, said the province's trade with Asean totalled US$9.32 billion in 2011 and US$9.23 billion last year.
He said both sides were aiming to abolish bilateral import tariffs from 2015 to 2018.
Zhu Jianguo, a Shenzhen-based independent commentator, said he expected Asean investors to be cautious given the territorial disputes.
But Dr Peng Peng, a researcher with the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said stronger economic ties could play down territorial disputes.
"We have to bear in mind that there are only a few Asean members that have territorial disputes with China and among those, only the dispute with the Philippines has actually had a real economic impact on trade," Peng said.
He said the trade fair echoed Hu's call to foster economic growth outside the prosperous Pearl River Delta as part of measures to maintain Guangdong's lead in provincial economic output rankings on the mainland.
Peng said Guangxi had traditionally played a leading role in building business ties with Asean but its smaller economy had restricted its impact.
"That is why Guangdong is taking up the baton," Peng said. "Fostering trade between Guangdong and Asean can also foster the internationalisation of the yuan."