A few minutes by ferry from Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, the mainland island of Hengqin is dotted with heavy machinery, trucks, and thousands of construction workers busy building infrastructure, including commercial and residential towers. Hengqin, one of the three pilot special economic zones in Guangdong – alongside Qianhai and Nansha – has been actively seeking foreign investment from Macau residents and enterprises given its proximity to the former Portuguese enclave, which is in need of land for economic development. Even the University of Macau recently opened its new campus on the former oyster farming island, which is now playing catch-up with bigger economic zone rival Shanghai. A government-backed primary land developer in Hengqin has now submitted its listing application to the Hong Kong stock exchange, which could be the first Hengqin-themed initial public offering to hit the market. The Hengqin zone has turned into a real estate project seeking funds from the public market The Hengqin economic zone is being built on a government initiative of greater cooperation with Macau, but the idea has quickly turned into a real estate project seeking funds from the public market. The common thing between Hengqin and Qianhai is that land prices have jumped substantially since the announced policy, even though overall transport and other infrastructure remain the same. Efforts to list Zhuhai Da Hengqin Company, which was established three months after China’s then vice-president Xi Jinping rubber-stamped the mainland city to serve as an important platform for Macau’s economic growth, could be considered a one-sided bet on confidence in the Zhuhai government, since most senior managers, including its chairman and chief executive, have joined the company from the local government. Though we are unsure if these top executives have the ability to weather the downturn in China’s property market, one can easily see that they have a strong public service background. But the bigger question is whether they have the relevant experience to impress investors given that the track record of the economic zone remains unimpressive. The expression to “cross the river by feeling the stones” seems to apply to this situation. In one recent example, a Qianhai official suggested that the special economic zone could alleviate the massive shopping traffic in Hong Kong by having more drug stores and mass-market retailers, the latest sign that the area’s goal to become a financial services centre has yet to take off. In fact, no one knows if Qianhai can really become the newly proclaimed private equity hub for China, but manufacturers and home buyers are certain that the calls for infrastructure and tax incentives should remain on the table. Will investors buy into the Zhuhai Da Hengqin idea – Da meaning bold in Chinese – simply because it has the natural geographical advantage of proximity to Macau, where the growth in gambling business is slowing? Admittedly, a few Hong Kong tycoons have placed their bets by buying undeveloped land in Hengqin. But small retail investors thinking of following in their footsteps should think twice before pouring money into Zhuhai Da Hengqin, which incurred a large net cash outflow in 2013.