As the annual report cards have been read out by each of the GBA’s nine mayors in recent days, it has become clearer that 2019 was much worse for the “little tigers” than for the advanced-manufacturing giants: Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing and Huizhou have been hit harder by the external trade slowdown than Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Foshan. (Zhuhai has been an exceptional case because of Hengqin’s development.)
They and their bosses, the party secretaries, have now all trooped up to Guangzhou for the provincial gatherings, where they must explain to each other what is going on at home. Some are coy. Others, like Zhongshan’s newly installed Party Secretary, Lai Zehua, have chosen to bravely lay out how bad the situation has become, while pledging to catch up with a bold industrial-upgrading plan in the coming years.
Lai’s focus is on building new industrial clusters ahead of the 2024 watershed year for Zhongshan, when the first cross-delta railway, known as the “Shenmao” line, opens, connecting Zhongshan directly to Shenzhen.
“These difficulties and problems in the past were not sudden or accidental, but were long-term, structural, and cumulative,” Lai was quoted by local media as saying, adding that Zhongshan’s economy is under “great downward pressure”.
Zhongshan came dead last in the GBA during each of the first, second and third quarters of 2019, with growth rates of 2.6%, 0.9% and 1.1%, respectively. It has been the city’s worst performance in 20 years as its traditional manufacturing industries struggled under the weight of the US-China trade war.
Lai said he expected full-year numbers for industrial output, finance, fixed-asset investment and industrial investment to show negative growth once released.
Looking to the future, however, he said Zhongshan would focus on building four industrial clusters: one valued at 500 billion yuan focused on smart-home appliances, one at 300 billion yuan for electronic-information companies, one at 200 billion yuan for advanced equipment manufacturing, and one at 100 billion yuan for healthcare and medicine.
The plan would be to stabilize the economy by 2021. And if all goes well, by 2024 these clusters would help to push Zhongshan back above the average level of the province. Then it would be ready for the next wave of opportunity as Zhongshan’s army of SMEs are directly connected to the Bay’s eastern engine of Shenzhen. Nimble, quick-thinking entrepreneurs famed for having taken over and dominated the world’s furniture and lamp markets would relish the chance to move up the industrial scale the same way Shenzhen has helped Dongguan to do.
Lai has five years to prepare. Watch this space.
Read more in Chinese.