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Chengdu puts on its best face to welcome admirers from afar

Building Brics: Often, when western companies speak of their admiration for how business in China is done, they are referring to the way single-party rule makes it easier to put things into effect.

Often, when western companies speak of their admiration for how business in China is done, they are referring to the way single-party rule makes it easier to put things into effect.

In many ways the Sichuan capital Chengdu is a classic example of how development works in China, of how huge state investment combines with enthusiastic local government support to produce results.

It's almost an understatement to say organisers pulled out all the stops for the Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu last week. The city looked spruce, organisation was second-to-none.

Media representatives were aided by eager volunteers, keen to help with any problems and sing, unprompted, patriotic songs about how much they love the Sichuan capital.

The usual internet restrictions on Facebook and Twitter were removed for the duration of the forum at the Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Chengdu.

The weather on the opening day lifted after a gloomy run-in to provide glorious sunshine for the event and one wonders if there was some cloud-seeding going on to ensure an appealing backdrop to the events.

For a long time, Chengdu's biggest selling point was the panda bear beloved as China's national symbol, and this is still the case. But these days the city authorities love to follow up the panda stories with tales of the city's stated ambition of becoming the Silicon Valley of China.

Anything between half and two thirds of the iPads sold worldwide are assembled in Chengdu, while the computer giant Intel makes up to half of its chips in the city.

A key aim of the president Xi Jinping's administration is to cut the burgeoning wealth gap and a big factor in that is boosting the west of China. Chengdu is one of the key cities in the "Go West" strategy, aimed at revitalising the western provinces that have not enjoyed the same boost that their southern and coastal counterparts have from decades of growth.

Ge Honglin, the mayor of Chengdu, made no bones about his efforts to bring Fortune 500 firms to the city, using a facilitative approach rather than the hard sell.

"My philosophy is that they must have many concerns after traveling a long way to the west," he told the forum.

"The key is how to serve them better when they arrive in Chengdu, so our belief is that we can only attract more investors when we serve those who are already here well."

Chengdu is not as wealthy as Shanghai or Beijing but it is coming on fast and, for the past five years, economic growth in China's western regions has outperformed that of China's eastern regions.

The city's look has been transformed, and the Fortune Global Forum was all about underlining that transformation. It's the first hosted by a western Chinese city, following Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.

One of the Fortune 500 firms highlighted as a prime example of how western firms can thrive in Chengdu, and western China generally, was DuPont.

The US chemical company was among the first multinationals entering the China market in 1984, and four years later the DuPont China Holding Company became the first wholly owned foreign investment company approved by the Chinese government.

Last year, DuPont opened a branch in Chengdu, and also signed an R&D collaboration agreement with Sichuan University in Chengdu to jointly develop innovative products in computer, communication and consumer electronics.

"The western city is now a hub for many manufacturing industries and we are glad to have set up a plant here," says the DuPont chairwoman and chief executive Ellen Kullman, who was on three panels at the forum.

Last year, Chengdu's GDP reached 813.89 billion yuan (Dh487.37bn), making the inland city the third-largest economy among China's 15 sub provincial-level cities.

And the city can add some serious architecture to its selling points. The Singapore property developer CapitaLand unveiled Raffles City Chengdu last September, an integrated development in the city's central business district, while the Hong Kong entertainment tycoon Allan Zeman, who is known for developing that city's upmarket nightlife hub, Lan Kwai Fong, is bringing the concept to Chengdu and has built an entertainment district 18 times bigger than its Hong Kong equivalent.

Among the landmarks downtown is the Sliced Porosity Block by the architect Steven Holl, a sophisticated complex of three pavilions with water features. At the city's boundary, Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are building a 1.3 square kilometre city called Chengdu Tianfu District Great City.

Mr Smith is a tall-building specialist, so the self-sustaining satellite city will feature a few towers when it is completed in about eight years' time. Texas Instruments, a US maker of analogue circuit components and semiconductors, signed an agreement in October with the Chengdu Tianfu Software Park to establish research and development and sales centres in the park.

The city offers low wages compared with Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and Chengdu boasts a low 5 per cent turnover rate for labour, unlike Shanghai and Beijing, where high turnover rates are a problem.

The city has imposed a major crackdown on corruption recently, too.

The former Chengdu mayor and Sichuan deputy Communist Party secretary Li Chuncheng was arrested and is accused of offering bribes for promotion, selling official positions to incompetent candidates and making his wife the head of Chengdu's Red Cross after it received huge sums following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

 

business@thenational.ae

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