Report and photos by Lowell Bennett
In Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhang Autonomous Region, tens of thousands of officials, businesspeople and journalists braved a heavy morning downpour to hustle into the cavernous and pristine Nanning International Convention and Exhibition Center on October 19, 2005. There they mingled, ogled product and cut deals among some 3,500 exhibits promoting everything from relics to real estate and coffee to cars. The massive four-day networking affair exemplified a global-scale mercantile mentality, all-out governmental support and state-of-the-art Vegas-like glitz. The numbers and regional implications ranged from impressive to astounding.
The event was the second annual China-ASEAN Expo (CAExpo) and among other milestones reached: negotiations concluded there resulted in contracts being inked for some 126 international transactions valued collectively at US$5.29 billion. That's an increase of 6 percent in trade value over the prior year, according to Li Jinzao, deputy director of the CAExpo organizing committee and vice chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Indicative of the growing momentum in transnational investment and cooperation between China and ASEAN nations, attending the CAExpo opening ceremony, and addressing thousands of assembled participants and members of the international media, were Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Lao Vice President Choummali Sayasone, and Prime Minister Soe Win of Myanmar.
The high-level gathering was a notable continuation of last year's CAExpo, during which Vice-Premier Wu Yi stressed the need for increasing China-ASEAN collaboration. "Only when China and the ASEAN member nations seize the opportunity and enhance cooperation can the two sides succeed in acute global competition," she said.
An energized expo
Exhibit areas for the 2005 CAExpo at the Nanning Convention Center were sold out. Formatted throughout 15 integrated exhibition halls, within a total interior space of 150,000 square meters (1,614,600 square feet), were 3,000 exhibition booths and demonstration areas. Additional exterior space provided 26,000 square meters for another 500 booths. Added to that were 11 conference halls and meeting rooms, utilizing another 4,840 square meters of the massive convention center.
The number of enterprises applying for exhibition space at the expo exceeded expectations, with requests for more than twice the number of booths originally allotted by organizers. More than 1,000 of the 3,500 exhibition booths eventually installed were reserved by ASEAN nation enterprises, accounting for more than 40% of the total occupancy.
Major international players at the event included Siemens, Ericsson, Finnish STORAENSO, China Telecom, China Mobile, Japanese Ojipaper, NEC, Shanghai Baogang Steel Co., China-Aerospace, Tsinghua Tongfang, TCL Group, Skyworth Digital and many more high-profile enterprises. In support of their localized interests, representatives from 40 ASEAN-nation-based chambers of commerce also attended.
Evidencing the increasing importance of Nanning as an international metropolis and hub of regional commerce, several of the ASEAN member nations are expected to establish consulates in the city, including Thailand, Laos and Malaysia. Vietnam and Cambodia already have consulate-presence there.
The highly successful CAExpo further evidences a building momentum in the movement of 11 nations to fully realize a free trade zone (FTA), a greater region of commerce that will encompass a total population of more than 1.7 billion. For 11 years, ASEAN has remained among the top five of China's trading partners.
According to the ASEAN Secretariat, China-ASEAN trade volume accelerated at an annual rate of about 40 percent in the past three years. In 2004, trade volume surpassed US$100 billion. The Secretariat's simulations further project a 0.9 percent expansion in GDP benefiting the ASEAN nations, and a 0.3 percent yield for China.
The China-ASEAN FTA, with collective national markets comprising US$2 trillion in gross domestic product, is projected to become the world's third largest trading region, after the European Union and the North American FTA.
Mobilization, cooperation and speed have proven to be the watchwords in the conception of CAExpo and the accelerating development of ASEAN. Zhai Kun, a scholar with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said, "Of all the FTA negotiations in which China has participated, the negotiation with ASEAN has by far proved to be the fastest and most fruitful."
The ASEAN asset
In the first six months of 2005, cumulative bilateral transnational trade between China and the ASEAN 10 -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- jumped 25 percent to exceed US$59 billion. At least partially seeding this rapid fruition was China's 2004 US$226-million direct foreign investment into ASEAN.
The overall aim of the ASEAN FTA is full transnational economic integration by 2020. Central to the plan, tariffs on some goods are projected to drop to between zero and five percent. By 2010, the accord will apply to the six more advanced ASEAN economies, with phase-in of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar expected to be complete by 2015.
Already, with implementation of the "Agreement on Goods Trade" in July 2005, approximately 7,000 categories of products were detailed in the tax reduction list. Regional trade in those products is projected to realize a zero-tariff benefit by 2010.
But not all business
Demonstrating a scope of production, level of intricacy and a mind-blowing diversity of performance beyond anything this writer has ever experienced in the West, coordinated with the kick-off of CAExpo, Nanning also hosted the fifth annual Nanning International Folk Song Festival.
Designed to draw a younger crowd, featured this year were more modern beats intermingled with the traditional. The sold-out event, with a scope of production well surpassing the Super Bowl halftime extravaganzas of the US, centered on "Flying Song 2005," a spectacular rendered in four highly visual and highly elaborate musical chapters, each named after a season.
Huge production numbers, acrobats, gymnasts, flying-wire acts, veteran local folk artists, really cute singing kids and uncountable numbers of unbelievably attractive highly-costumed dancers seamlessly combined with the performances of top Chinese pop stars from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond. Building folk elements into their musical portfolio were major artists like Jolin Tsai, JJ Lam, and Jay Chow. Nanning, known in some parts as the "ocean of songs," also boasts a home-grown folk music legend, Sister Liu.
Backgrounder: the numbers of Nanning
In the first six months of 2005, Nanning's gross revenues reached 4.897 billion yuan, an increase exceeding 15 percent over the same period of 2004. And, of particular note, in January 2005 Nanning achieved a major milestone: revenues topped 1.11 billion yuan, besting the numbers of January 2004 by 33.59 percent. Nanning thus became the first city in Guangxi Province to generate 1 billion yuan in a single month.
Nanning's managers are investing a good chunk of those additional funds in the education of its youngest citizens – the future of the city. An additional 53.28 million yuan was recently invested in resources such as equipment and building renewal for primary and secondary schools. Significantly, a large portion of the funds are going to the program (roughly translated as), "Helping 3,000 Students from Low Income Families through Education." And an additional 600,000 yuan has been allocated for improving the infrastructure and overall teaching conditions at schools previously designated as fiscally disadvantaged.
Note: the author is a senior editor of China Pictorial, who covered this year's China-ASEAN Expo.
(China.org.cn November 1, 2005)