23 October 2016
Tianjin's financial district of Yujiapu is filled with empty, dirt-covered glass edifices overlooking near-empty streets. Photo: Bloomberg
Tianjin's financial district of Yujiapu is filled with empty, dirt-covered glass edifices overlooking near-empty streets. Photo: Bloomberg

Tianjin ‘ghost town’ to quadruple GDP by 2017, says official

Tianjin, a port city in northeastern China, has built a replica of New York’s Manhattan that is still mostly deserted.

But a city official said that despite its mostly empty buildings, the financial district of Yujiapu is set to double its output this year and quadruple it by 2017, Bloomberg News reported.

The area aims for an output of 30 billion yuan (US$5 billion) in 2017 from 7.5 billion yuan last year, Jiang Guangjian, executive deputy director-general of Tianjin’s free-trade zone, told the news agency in an interview.

The district’s free-trade zone status, gained late last year, has helped lure 6,000 companies from the financial, legal, accounting and trade sectors to register for business.

Jiang expects the number of firms in the district to rise to more than 15,000 next year.

Although the district is still filled with empty, dirt-covered glass edifices overlooking near-empty streets, Jiang said the situation is about to change as the new free-trade zone and high-speed rail link boost business.

The area’s high-speed rail station, a seashell-shaped structure that is envisioned to be part of a 300,000-square-meter transportation hub larger than New York’s Grand Central, is scheduled to open on Aug. 20, he said.

That will shrink the commute to Beijing to about 45 minutes and to downtown Tianjin to 15 minutes.

Thirteen of 63 buildings in the district are being used and 33 will be completed by the end of this year, he said.

Jiang sees Tianjin’s free-trade zone becoming northern China’s Lujiazui, the financial center that sprang up on Shanghai’s east bank in the 1990s after initially also being derided as a white elephant.

“The newest policies of financial innovation and of making investment and trade more convenient will be tried and created here,” he told Bloomberg.

“Tianjin free trade zone is the only one in the entire Northern China. Companies can’t neglect it to go to the far south.”

However, skeptics say it will be difficult to attract business to the district amid the country’s slowing economy.

Vacancy rate of the buildings already completed and those to be finished in the near future will be 60 to 70 percent, according to Billy Lo, general manager of Cushman & Wakefield’s Beijing office.

“The FTZ may draw occupants to a few floors among the dozens of skyscrapers there, but that doesn’t make it Pudong,” Victor Shih, a China expert from the University of California, was quoted as saying. He was referring to Shanghai’s financial district.

But Jiang remains optimistic. He said Tianjin will attract more investment because of the convenience of setting up business in the free-trade zone.

Besides, Tianjin itself is witnessing robust growth. Its economy expanded 9.4 percent in the first half, making its debt “totally controllable”, Jiang said.

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