Hengqin island in the southern city of Zhuhai is Macau’s nearest neighbor. Instead of trying to compete with Macau, Hengqin thrives by playing a complementary role to Asia’s gaming hub.
Hengqin has been developing rapidly in recent years. It is one of the few pilot free trade zones in China, and it is included in the central government’s regional infrastructure initiative called One Belt, One Road.
Hit by China’s anti-graft campaign and lukewarm economic growth, Macau’s gaming revenue dropped for the first time in more than a decade last year.
On the other hand, Hengqin continues to do well by focusing on leisure and travel businesses such as theme parks.
Niu Jing, director of the Hengqin New Area Administrative Committee, said the island is playing a complementary role to Macau, and the two cities will continue to actively cooperate with each other, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Niu cites the island’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom as an example of how Hengqin is focusing on developing things that Macau does not have.
“Macau lacks space to develop theme parks or other entertainment projects, and so Hengqin fills the void,” he said.
“Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is now building its second and third theme parks. We can even say these are Macau’s theme parks. The two cities will work together to develop the tourism and healthcare industry,” he added.
Niu is proud of Hengqin’s development model, noting that it could serve as a blueprint for other free trade zones in Guangdong province.
“After the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is built, the Hong Kong cruise terminals could become the home port of the region,” he said. “Visitors can travel to Macau and Hengqin for the casinos and theme parks within an hour. It is absolutely a win-win situation.”
Many local governments are obsessed with increasing the size of their GDP and enhancing their economic growth, but Niu’s vision goes behind that.
“We don’t want to waste our energy trying to compete with other regions,” he said. “Instead, we want to concentrate on areas where we can take advantage of our unique characteristics.”
Zheng Tianxiang, professor of Zhongshan University’s Pearl River Delta Research Institute, suggested that Hengqin should also strengthen its cooperation with Hong Kong in areas such as air traffic management as well as development of economic and trading platforms.
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