ALTHOUGH tipped to become the biggest Sino-foreign real estate development project in China, the Singapore-Suzhou Township as yet lacks the Lion City's roar. While much noise has been made about the 70 square kilometre township, modelled on Singapore and its development formula, it is little more than a building site at the moment, surrounded by acres of farmland. The developer has set aside 10 years to build the township - an integrated complex comprising industrial parks, commercial centres and social facilities such as schools, housing and recreational amenities. But there is still much work to be done before the development can be compared to Singapore's showpiece Jurong Industrial Park. The project is being financed and managed by the China Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park Development Company (CSSD), a joint venture between Singaporean and Chinese investors. The developers estimate that US$20 billion will be needed to complete the project. However, the first eight square kilometres of land for phase one will not be ready until the end of 1997, although a start-up area of about two sq km is well developed. Even then, it faces competition from other development zones and industrial parks in eastern China, making the path ahead far from smooth. Two industrial parks in Wuxi and one in Nanjing, as well as Suzhou city's own Suzhou New District all hope to benefit from the spill-over from neighbouring Shanghai. But one thing is certain, the Sino-Singapore link has moved the otherwise sleepy Suzhou economy up a notch or two. Suzhou's mayor Zhang Xinsheng is hopeful the project will help attract additional foreign investors and technology to Suzhou. The Chinese and the Singaporean officials charged with overseeing the township's development maintain the deal will be of mutual benefit. They rejected any suggestions that a relatively late launch date had placed them at a big disadvantage compared to other areas. Instead, what is termed 'the Singapore software transfer' - the use of Singapore's considerable developmental know-how - has become the main selling point. As a result of this input, the period of development could be shortened, said Chew Whye, CSSD's deputy chief executive officer. The CSSD consortium is led by Singapore Government-linked DBS Land, Jurong Engineering Environment, and Pidemco Land. Mr Chew said: 'The township would use our successful experience to develop quickly. If it used their [Chinese] method, it would take a long time.' Vice-chairman of the Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee, Zhou Xun said the partnership would support Singapore's regionalisation drive. 'Singapore's resources are limited. It needs to go beyond its borders in order to maintain its economic growth,' he said. The committee is the governing authority responsible for development of the township. Han Jiang, an economist on the committee, said the township was a window for Suzhou to open up to foreign investors. 'We are exploring a way to incorporate Singapore's success in management, high-tech development and economic management with our own needs,' he said. 'We are still searching for a formula for us. After that, we will set our own regulations.' The committee has adopted Singapore's planning regulations and is studying its method of economic management. Mr Han said the township would be used as a testing ground for China's new market economy. 'The policies here will converge with those of the international market,' he said. The committee believes that the adaptation of the Singapore system will help mobilise the country's resources. 'We have similar viewpoints in administration, people's livelihood and labour,' Mr Han said. The township is located to the east of Suzhou city, approximately 90 km from Shanghai. To date, 29 companies have committed a total of $684 million to the township - the most ambitious scheme so far undertaken in Singapore's regionalisation drive. After the top leaders of both countries shook hands in February 1994 after signing the agreement, they lost no time in getting the project off the ground. Construction work started last May, though much of the area earmarked for the township remains barren. One foreign investor voiced his frustration, saying the development was slower than promised. 'There has been a delay in us getting our business licence, although it is a national-level industrial park. 'And although there are tax incentives and support from both governments, the infrastructure such as water, electricity and roads are not really in yet,' he said. Although CSSD guarantees land prepared to Singapore standards, investors in the two sq km start-up area of the township will have to rely on water and electricity supplies from Suzhou for two to three years. A spokesman said they had only built a diesel plant in the area because it was 'faster to set up'. 'We are very particular about the standards of the infrastructure,' he said. Land for industrial purposes is set at $5.6 per square foot, and full foreign ownership is allowed. Investors are given a preferential tax rate of 15 per cent, similar to those of the economic and technological development zones in the country. Foreign-funded enterprises will be exempted from local income tax up to the end of 2000. Those engaging in manufacturing within the township who re-invest their profits will get a 40 per cent income tax rebate. And those who re-invest profits in an export-oriented or high-technology enterprise with a business period of not less than five years, will obtain a full rebate of income tax paid on the amount reinvested.