In the northeast corner of Guangzhou, a vision of the city’s future has been rising for nearly a decade. Thanks to some major investments announced recently, and as the project nears the halfway mark of its original 20-year development plan, an opportune moment has arisen to review its progress. Local media have been gushing about its potential.
Known as Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, the project covers 123 sqkm of the Huangpu District on land set aside back in 2008. That was the year a high-level visit to Singapore planted the seeds for the project. Singapore had already invested in two other major special economic zones in China, the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco City, and was considering a third in the southern part of the country.
The trip, led by Guangdong’s Party Secretary at the time, Wang Yang, who is now Vice Premier, was successful. Groundbreaking for the new project took place in 2010, after a formal cooperation agreement had been signed between the two governments, presided over by Wang and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Last year, the project, known by its acronym of SSGKC, was upgraded to a National-Level Bilateral Cooperation Project.
Guangzhou today has bigger urban-development projects: in Nansha, where an entire new district is being built, and in Panyu, where the Guangzhou South Railway Station is being turned into a trillion-RMB cluster of tech and services industries. Yet although Knowledge City is “merely” a 100-billion-RMB cluster project, it will always be remembered as the provincial capital’s first truly visionary attempt to craft a new future for itself. And, with Singapore’s involvement, it has been the most successful in attracting globally recognized companies to invest in major advanced-technology facilities.
From the start, Knowledge City has been forward-looking in planning for not only how it would be built, but the kind of companies it wanted to attract. When it began in 2008, the global financial crisis was just starting to unfold, and Guangzhou’s traditional export-oriented manufacturing base was still dominated by low value-added industries. Knowledge City’s planners needed a large dollop of gumption to set their sails on what is now regularly referred to by Chinese city planners as an “IAB+NEM” strategy. (IAB refers to next-generation IT, Artificial Intelligence, and Biomedicine; NEM refers to New Energy and New Materials.)
Today, according to reports in local media, Knowledge City has an impressive list of achievements, having introduced no fewer than 165 large-scale investment projects into the area. These are grouped into eight so-called “pillar industrial clusters” and include 1,605 companies with a total registered capital of RMB 136.208 billion.
The company registry includes many household names in China, such as Alibaba, with its Data Center unit, China Mobile, which has its Southern China R&D Base here, and leading TV manufacturer, Skyworth. Knowledge City has also managed to bring in global giants such as US-based General Electric, which has the GE Biotechnology Park, Germany’s Siemens, and consumer-goods giant P&G, which has its China Digital Innovation Center here. In addition, some of the country’s top research institutes are based here, such as Guangzhou Provincial Laboratory of Regenerative Medicine and Health, Guangdong Next-Generation Telecommunication and Internet Innovation Research Institute, and Guangzhou College of China Academy of Sciences.
Knowledge City is part of a bigger growth plan for technology in the provincial capital. Administered by the Guangzhou Development Zone and the Guangzhou High-tech Zone, the entire Huangpu district is choc-full of tech projects. The biggest of these include Guangzhou Science City, Huangpu Port, Guangzhou International Biological Island, Guangzhou-Hong Kong Special Zone for Cooperation, and the Guangzhou-Hong Kong Science and Technology Cooperation Park. (Read more about them here.)
Knowledge City currently has 50 investment projects under construction, which are due to be completed two years, with a projected output value exceeding 210 billion yuan. Here are just a few of the biggest:
- Guangdong semiconductor plant: A 12-inch microchip wafer-manufacturing project was put into operation in September last year, with US$4 billion of investment from CanSemi Technology Co. It is expected to introduce upstream and downstream enterprises to form a new billion-dollar industrial cluster.
- BeiGene Guangzhou Biopharmaceutical Production Base, a leading company in China’s biopharmaceutical industry, has begun work on its second phase here, with total investment expected to exceed 2.3 billion yuan. The first phase of the project was completed in only 18 months.
- Together with GE Biotechnology Park, more than 30 biomedical hub projects have landed here, including those from well-established firms such as INNOCARE, ThermoFisher, Green Leaf, Hengrui and Longsha. Investments committed exceed 20 billion yuan, which are expected to generate annual revenues of nearly 100 billion yuan. More than 600 biopharmaceutical companies such as Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Baxter and other biopharmaceutical companies have taken root here, reaching annual output levels of more than 70 billion yuan.
- P&G China Digital Innovation Center: Procter & Gamble plans to invest US$100 million over the next three years to integrate P&G’s current digital technology research, big data, digital supply chain and other innovative practices in China.
- Japan’s FANUC Robot Base: Soon to open, this will be a landmark project for robot production in Guangzhou, integrating robot sales, display, technical support and warehousing, including R & D and manufacturing, exhibition centers and training centers for robots and robot systems.
- Skyworth’s Smart Manufacturing Base: Founded in Shenzhen, Skyworth Group has invested about 7 billion yuan to build an intelligent industry innovation base covering more than 100,000 sqm. Once completed, it will have an annual output of 30 million smart home appliances, 1.8 million sets of intelligent systems and products, and a total output value of about 30 billion yuan. The first phase was completed in mid-2019; the second phase is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.
- Guangdong Environmental Equity Exchange Institute and Guangdong Canton Digital Service Co., which will promote the development of green finance and green industries, and promote the construction of a big data trading platform in Guangdong.
- Sino-Singapore international science and technology innovation cooperation demonstration zone, which will open over the next decade, is focused on the development of biomedicine and healthcare, smart manufacturing, financial services, science and education services and digital creative industries and headquarters economy.
- A nanotechnology industry cluster is already being put together and will be built across an area of 1.1 sqkm. Relying on the National Nano Science Center, it will introduce first-class nanotechnology talent teams and high-end projects at home and abroad.
- French Business Service Center, which aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises from the country who are interested in entering the Greater Bay Area.
- Jiulong lake Headquarters Cluster Project and the International Innovation Drive Center: Started on the same day in September, with a total investment of about 52.3 billion yuan. Jiulong Lake Headquarters will create a “green ecological knowledge city headquarters bay, knowledge city high-end innovative resources gathering center”, while International Innovation Drive Center will support all-round innovation initiatives in the district.
- Guangdong Intellectual Property Service Industry Center, also begun in September, aims to attract high-quality intellectual property service institutions and resources at home and abroad, indicating the high priority placed on accelerating transformation and upgrading of traditional industry in the city and province. It is a key project approved by the Provincial Development and Reform Commission.
- Besides these, Knowledge City is looking at emerging industries, clustering them in parks, including a next-generation IT park, high-end equipment manufacturing park, biomedical park, and new energy, new materials and smart chip park.
Due to its high standard of urban planning, transportation and other advantages, Knowledge City has become increasingly attractive to high-level talent. The area’s blueprint envisages more than 600,000 high-tech professionals working and living here, and, as a result, lifestyle options have been built with this population’s needs in mind.
Knowledge City has already started to build stations on the city’s transportation network system of two subway lines, an intercity railway, and four high-speed railways. The opening late last year of the Guangzhou-Dongguan-Shenzhen city rail was one of the most important of these, and its extension (by 2021) will bring Knowledge City within half an hour of Guangzhou’s Tianhe business district and the Baiyun International Airport. A faster high-speed railway is being planned between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, which will have a stop in Knowledge City.
In terms of residential property, Knowledge City has attracted well-known developers such as Longhu, Vanke and Greenland to provide high-quality accommodation.
Educational resources are being invested in. Knowledge City Nanyang Huaqiao Middle School and Guangzhou Experimental Middle School have been confirmed for construction, and Phoenix Lake Primary School has officially opened.
Despite the lofty name, Knowledge City will not be all work and no play. A Neighborhood Center will open this year, while a Water Dance Park is in planning with an investment of around 100 million yuan. The Qikun Complex and the Happiness Complex are under way.
This year (2020), Knowledge City will have medical resources according to a planned population of 280,000. It is planned to add one general 3A hospital, three specialized hospitals, and seven community health service centers. Up to now, three specialized hospitals have been basically completed, and the Knowledge City Southern Hospital (General Hospital) is expected to be initially completed in 2021. In addition, Guangzhou Barcelona International Hospital has started construction recently.