HARBIN landed its first foreign-funded enterprise only in December 1984, but today major foreign corporations are eager to establish a presence in the once-forgotten city. In the seven years following the arrival of the pioneering enterprise, only 380 foreign-funded businesses were set up, most in the service sector such as catering or small processing plants. The turning point came in 1991 when 104 projects, mostly industrial, were launched by businessmen from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan in the hope of tapping the Russian market. In 1992, another 403 foreign-funded enterprises followed, and last year 696 moved in, bringing the total to 1,283. Of the foreign investors, 70 per cent are from Hong Kong and Taiwan. To handle the surge of foreign investment in the city, Harbin set up the Foreign Investment Administration Bureau which pools the resources of several government branches to manage foreign investment. The bureau speeds up the approval process and acts as a bridge between investors and the government by holding regular meeting with investors to explore opinions about the investment environment. Officials also frequently travel overseas to woo big companies in the hope of convincing them to channel funds to the city to rejuvenate ageing heavy industries. The industrial sector makes products which include power station equipment, aircraft, light buses, mini-buses, cars, precision meters, instruments, cutting tools, electric cables and insulating materials. Apart from heavy industries, the city welcomes foreign investment in sectors ranging through chemicals, textiles, electronics, building materials, pharmaceuticals and food. According to Chen Ruizhi, deputy director of the Harbin Foreign Investment Administration Bureau, the New China Hong Kong Group was the most ambitious Hong Kong company, negotiating for 14 leading factories. The company was interested in taking majority stakes in the plants, said Mr Chen. Harbin, eager to attract foreign capital, had lobbied Beijing to allow the New China Hong Kong Group to take stakes in key industries such as the power station equipment plant. Other Hong Kong firms said to be interested in Harbin include Hopewell, Hutchison, Kerry Group and Allied Industries. Mr Chen said the main focus of attracting foreign investment had shifted to the renovation of old industries. Of the 289 large and medium-sized industrial enterprises, half are in desperate need of funds to upgrade technology and equipment. ''We know that our future lies in improving these old industries, and to make full use of them to develop the local economy,'' he said. The second area of investment being encouraged is urban construction, with the city accelerating the building of hotels, telecommunications, energy and transportation projects to cope with the demands of hosting the Asian Winter Games in 1996. The third area is the development of hi-tech industries because the city enjoys the advantage of an abundant supply of skilled labour which flows from its many tertiary education institutions. To further encourage foreign investment, the municipal government has pledged that preferential treatment previously offered to foreign investors will not be curtailed as long as it is not banned by the state. Another move is to give enterprises autonomy in matching their foreign partners. The city will offer another 30 projects to Hong Kong in May in a national investment fair.