China seeks win-win development with Asia
Updated: 2012-03-10 11:02
BEIJING -- Residents in Hekou in Southwest China can still recall its former days as a quiet, anonymous town that attracted few visitors from neighboring Vietnam for business or sightseeing.
But major changes have hit the town in Yunnan province. With two roads and one rail line linking it with Vietnam, Hekou has become a bustling hub for Vietnamese visitors buying bargain goods, looking for jobs and doing business with local residents.
These changes took place in just a few years, as China vigorously promoted the opening up of its border regions, unlocking commercial bonanzas for border towns like Hekou.
"The border port now reports 10,000 trips to-and-fro every day, and cross-border trade and tourism have prospered in the county," said Deng Yonghe, head of Hekou county.
Deng said the county's foreign trade volume topped 7.6 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) in 2011, a 19-percent rise from the previous year, and currently plans to upgrade infrastructure to meet the demands of commodity flow.
However, Hekou is not the only success story in Yunnan, which borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, and has drawn momentum from China's enhanced interactions with southeast Asian countries.
And the benefits have been mutual, as evidenced by more Asian nationals now seeking education, medical services, and business opportunities in Yunnan, said Wang Shufen, head of the provincial civil affairs department.
Universities in Yunnan have received more than 20,000 foreign students, mostly from southeast Asia, said Luo Chongmin, head of the provincial education department.
"Learning Chinese has become fashionable among students in neighboring countries. The language skills will aid them in future employment," Luo said.
According to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China has become the largest trading partner for most of its neighbors, with trade between China and other Asian countries topping $1 trillion last year.
Meanwhile, demand from the Western world has remained sluggish amid economic malaise, prompting China and other Asian exporters to highlight their domestic markets and regional integration as a buffer.
In China's traditional export provinces like Zhejiang, companies that have long relied on the American and European markets are adjusting their export strategy to put greater emphases on Asia.
Customs data shows that Zhejiang's foreign trade with the European Union and the United States grew just 16 percent last year, compared with 42 percent with ASEAN countries, 22 percent with Japan, and 30 percent with the Republic of Korea.
"In the past, we focused mainly on the Western market for its stable demand and strong tastes for high-end products," Zhao Linzhong, board chairman of Furun Group, a textile manufacturer in Zhejiang.
"But since the financial crisis in 2008, more companies have shifted their attention to growing markets in Asia, and the trend was most prominent last year," Zhao said.
Zhao also said that as Chinese textile manufacturers have moved overseas, some Asian neighbors like India have shown great potential for cooperation with its mature supply chain and outsourcing services.
Moreover, Chinese enterprises have increasingly favored southeast Asian countries as investment destinations, especially for those who have suffered tenuous profit margins due to rising labor costs back home.
Many small and medium-sized Chinese companies are planning to set up new factories in southeast Asia, where labor costs have remained low, and the labor-intensive factories will greatly boost local employment, said Cheng Huifang, professor at Zhejiang University of Technology.
In 2011, Yiwu, the world's largest wholesale market for small consumer goods, located in Zhejiang, announced its plan to build a similar market in Thailand that will create 160,000 jobs for local residents.
In a press release issued during the ongoing parliamentary session,Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China's investment in the Asian region reached $20 billion last year, with unprecedented cooperation in the fields of science and technology, finance, energy and infrastructure.
In regard to China's territorial and maritime disputes with its Asian neighbors and their fears about China's rising national strength, Yang insisted the general trend of their relations be positive and conflicts be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
"At a time when the recovery of the world economy remains uncertain and major Western economies are haunted by debt crises, the Asian economy has shown its unique strength," said Zhang Xuegang, a researcher with the Beijing-based China Institute for Contemporary International Relations.
"The Chinese economy and that of other Asian countries are mutually complementary. The two sides must grasp the opportunities and seek win-win development," Zhang said.