China Focus: 40 years on, Xiamen SEZ starts new opening-up chapter

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China on Tuesday held a gathering to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Xiamen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in east China’s Fujian Province. The Xiamen SEZ is among China’s first batch of four special economic zones, serving as a pilot area for the country’s reform and opening-up and promoting cross-Strait cooperation and exchanges. With a spate of new opening-up policies rolled out in recent years, Xiamen, a city facing Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait, is opening a new chapter of opening-up and high-quality development.

Xiamen has been seeking growth momentum from reform and opening-up over the past decades. In October 1980, the State Council, or the cabinet, approved the establishment of the Xiamen SEZ. Its construction officially started the following year. Later, the SEZ expanded twice. Now, it covers the entire city of Xiamen. After implementing a series of policies, Xiamen has formed a comprehensive and multi-level opening-up pattern, attracting scores of Fortune Global 500 companies amid efforts to integrate into the global economic system.

By the end of 2020, 63 Fortune Global 500 companies had invested 114 projects in Xiamen, with foreign investment in actual use totaling 3.63 billion U.S. dollars, said the Xiamen municipal bureau of statistics. Official data shows that Xiamen’s foreign trade increased from 141 million U.S. dollars in 1980 to 691.6 billion yuan (about 108.6 billion U.S. dollars) in 2020, with an average annual growth of 18 percent. Its utilized foreign investment increased from 8 million U.S. dollars in 1983 to 16.6 billion yuan in 2020, with an average yearly growth of 16.9 percent.

From January to November, the total foreign trade of Xiamen reached 814.2 billion yuan, up 29.3 percent year on year, with ASEAN, the United States, and the European Union the city’s top three trading partners, statistics with Xiamen customs authorities show. “There are policies and opportunities in Xiamen, and its good business environment encourages us to continue to increase investment here,” said James Zhao, president of ABB Electrification China. Over the past 40 years, Xiamen achieved average annual economic growth of 15 percent. Its gross domestic product reached 638.4 billion yuan in 2020, with per capita GDP exceeding 20,000 U.S. dollars.

Currently, foreign-funded companies contribute about 70 percent of the city’s industrial output, 60 percent of its economic growth, and 40 percent of its foreign trade. The city’s opening-up has been gaining momentum since the Xiamen Area of China (Fujian) Pilot Free Trade Zone and the city’s China-Europe freight train service were launched in 2015.Nearly 500 innovative measures have been rolled out in the Xiamen Area of the Fujian FTZ, according to Dai Bin, an official with the Xiamen Area administration committee. So far, more than ten aviation maintenance companies have established businesses in Xiamen, with their output in this field accounting for about one-fourth of the country’s total.

As the host of the ninth BRICS summit in 2017, Xiamen has also boosted its cooperation with BRICS countries, with the BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution Innovation Center launched in Xiamen in December last year. Xiamen launched Silk Road shipping services in 2018. Silk Road Shipping is an alliance jointly initiated in late 2018 by dozens of ports, carriers, and logistics service providers in countries along the Belt and Road.

After three years of development, Silk Road Shipping, with more than 200 members, now has 86 routes reaching 102 ports in 29 countries, said Li Nan, deputy general manager of Fujian Silk Road Maritime Management Company. As one of the mainland cities closest to Taiwan, Xiamen is a major hub for cross-Strait exchanges and regional cooperation.

Xiamen will build itself into a demonstration zone for cross-Strait integration development and become a top mainland destination for Taiwan compatriots and businesses, said Liu Jinzhu, head of Xiamen’s Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao affairs office. “Deepening its construction as a strategic hub for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and docking with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have given direction for Xiamen’s higher-level opening-up,” said Huang Maoxing, a professor with the School of Economics, Fujian Normal University.

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