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China Quickens Opening-up Steps
China's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) means this old oriental country will have to open up itself wider and finally integrate with the world market.

This is imaginably, or actually for certain people or enterprises, a painful process. But now, some provinces in the country are trying to run through it faster.

The local government of Shenzhen, one of the first batch of cities exercising China's opening-up policies in the early 1980s, is planning to make accessible its service sector to foreign investors one or two years earlier than the pace set in China's WTO commitment, according to the Beijing-based China Business Times.

The Shenzhen government has laid down an index of 20 lines of the service sector to be opened, which, the newspaper said, has got the central government's nod.

Beijing's special favors to Shenzhen prompted several other big cities, to whose names the business newspaper did not exactly refer, to ask for a similar suite.

Guangdong Province in south China even requested a green light to apply the policy across every corner under its jurisdiction.

All this indicates some subtle changes in China's opening-up maneuvers, the paper said.

For the WTO, domestic firms -- especially the state-owned ones -- and local governments might hold a different mentality.

The former are worried about the impact coming with the WTO. While the latter are anxious to move quicker to scramble for a first-comers' advantage in wooing foreign investment.

To what extent can foreign investment be piped into their industrial lines has become one significant factor in polishing local governments' administrative performance in today's China.

In fact, Beijing, east China's business metropolitan Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangdong's capital Guangzhou are wrestling with each other to prove who might be the most dynamic dart of China's economy.

Shenzhen attributes its leading place in winning Beijing's cuddling to its status as China's first Special Economic Zone, a test plot for experimenting the central government's opening-up decision, a risky move two decades ago.

The other three simply respond with a sniff: China's economic landscape is starkly different now with the two-decade development, they argued.

In the latest foreign-investment guideline issued by the central government, only 21, or 5.7 percent, of the totally 371 industrial items, are required to have a Chinese-controlled bulk share, according to the newspaper, with 87.6 percent permitted solely funded by foreign investment.

This has actually touched a so far heatedly discussed issue: Whether Chinese are entitled to policies granted to foreign investors.

All policies open or to be open to foreign investors should first be applied to domestic firms, private ones in particular, said Wu Jinglian, a highly-respected Chinese economist with the Development Research Center under the State Council, a government think tank.

This is a return to the spirit of "national treatment" required by the WTO, said Wu, who, together with the other 11 economists, was invited last month by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji for a policy consultation.

(People's Daily July 8, 2002)

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