3 possible locations for third Sino-S'pore project

3 possible locations for third Sino-S'pore project
Motorcyclists and cyclists travelling in their dedicated lanes at a traffic junction at Ren Min Nan Road in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on May 17, 2012.

CHENGDU, Chongqing and Xi'an in western China are the locations being considered for a third government-to-government project between Singapore and China, say Singapore officials.

But while China is excited at the prospect of furthering its push to develop the vast inland region, The Straits Times understands that Singapore wants to tread slowly.

Of the three, Chongqing may stand the best chance of being selected, according to several analysts and property developers who spoke to The Straits Times.

First, the south-western municipality is hungry for foreign investments, which plunged following the Bo Xilai scandal two years ago.

The former Chongqing party chief was ousted in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison last September for corruption and abuse of power.

Second, politics is a key factor in Singapore's considerations for a third bilateral project, which was first revealed during Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's visit to China last month.

The first two projects are the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) and the Tianjin Eco-City (TEC).

Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai, 51, is touted as a future premier and Singapore will be keen to build ties early.

Singapore's experience working with Mr Sun on the Jilin Food Zone when he was party chief of the north-eastern province could also be another factor.

Third, given that the proposed project is likely to adopt the model of an integrated business park with residential properties, Chongqing's housing situation would be more appealing than that in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Official statistics show Chengdu has 260 million sq m of unsold residential properties for its 14 million residents, while Chongqing has 130 million sq m for its 30 million-strong population.

"It would be harder to sell residential properties in overbuilt Chengdu compared to Chongqing," said a representative of a Singapore developer, who declined to be named.

Also, some feel that Singapore would prefer Chongqing to Chengdu, which already houses the Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park, a private-led, government-backed project.

An official said it is important that the city could attract enough Singaporeans and enterprises, which is what Xi'an, capital city of Shaanxi province, may be found lacking in.

With discussions still at a preliminary stage, The Straits Times understands that the location and nature of the proposed project have not been confirmed.

During his trip to Beijing and Chongqing, DPM Teo said officials had been tasked to study the feasibility of a third bilateral project and to report their findings at the next meeting of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) scheduled later this year.

He and China's Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli co- chair the JCBC. He said Mr Zhang had in October last year proposed that the two countries cooperate in China's western region.

Still, the project is not one that Singapore would want to rush into, given the work-in-progress status of its other collaborations with China, and the fact that Singaporean leaders want the new venture to be ground-breaking, like those in Suzhou and Tianjin.

According to Mr Teo, the expertise that Singapore brings to the project should not only bring benefits to the local economy where it is sited, but also make an impact across China. The project should be a model for others.

The SIP, the very first Sino-Singapore collaboration, would serve as a model for well-planned, integrated industrial parks in the early 1990s. The TEC, which broke ground in 2008, met China's desire for eco-friendly and sustainable urban design.

Coming up with a project that fits the developmental model of the western region would pose an additional challenge, according to Singapore officials.

Analysts noted that coastal provinces such as Jiangsu, where the SIP is located, are geared towards exporting to foreign markets. In contrast, the three western cities' industries serve the vast, inland domestic market - hardly Singapore's area of expertise, they added.

Nevertheless, analysts believe that a third joint venture would add new ballast to bilateral ties.

"One of Singapore's overriding objectives is to stay relevant to China's growth," said East Asian Institute assistant director Lye Liang Fook.

"If this is the case, then it is in Singapore's interests to constantly find opportunities to collaborate with China to derive win-win benefits."

This article was first published on August 8, 2014.
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