Zhuhai aims for the big time

The least-populated of the nine GBA cities, Zhuhai is determined to catch up with an aggressive development plan that includes technology upgrades and cooperation with Macau to build a world-class tourism hub.

Zhuhai is often misperceived by visitors as a sleepy seaside town. That is because it has a beautiful, long coastline with beaches and parks. But Zhuhai is more than a place to visit for seafood, hot springs and swimming. True, it has not developed at anywhere near the pace of its compatriot on the eastern corner of the Greater Bay Area, Shenzhen, for obvious reason: until the arrival of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge late last year, Zhuhai was not connected to Hong Kong, the region’s international gateway. It had Macau to work with. Which was, yes, sleepy – at least until the arrival of the casino groups in 2002. 

To say that Zhuhai is making up for lost time under the GBA masterplan would be an understatement. Perhaps no city in the region has as much ambition for its development, relative to the economy’s size, as Zhuhai does. This is largely due to the gift of a New Area in Hengqin, which is one of three special zones in the GBA that have been allowed by the central government to experiment more boldly with the next stage of the country’s Opening and Reform agenda. Nansha makes Guangzhou somewhat better. Qianhai is a nice addition to Shenzhen. Hengqin will define the future trajectory of Zhuhai.

But it is more than that. The city of 3 million people has invited tech behemoths Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei to help it develop an artificial intelligence research center, and it has contracted with Apple supplier Foxconn to build a US$9 billion microchip-production complex. These are just two examples of the lofty goals Zhuhai has set for itself to become a major force in the GBA’s technology-focused development.  

To accompany this development, infrastructure is needed, of course. That is why Hengqin is being built not only as a support player for the growth of Macau’s tourism industry, but also has its own central business district. At the core of this district is the enormous new Hengqin Railway Station, which is due to open in late November this year. At first, it will only have a spur line serving it from downtown Zhuhai, which is where the Intercity Railway from Guangzhou terminates. But in the coming years at least three major hi-speed railway lines will be coming into Zhuhai, connecting the city to the rest of the GBA and the country, via Hengqin.

We will profile Hengqin separately in an upcoming report. Here, we take a snapshot of the major urbanization projects under way in the city. 

  1. Xiangzhou fishing port (香洲渔港) upgrade
The Xiangzhou fishing port will be totally redeveloped into a city landmark 

Zhuhai originally wasa sleepy fishing village. It started on the shores of Xianghzou Bay, where boats could find protection from typhoons and pirates. At its peak, the bay had 800 fishing boats docked by its side, with an annual catch reaching 300,000 tons. It was one of the major distribution bases for the fishery trade in the region. 

But as Zhuhai has been growing into a modern city, the Xiangzhou fishing port has been sorely in need of an upgrade. Not surprisingly, the city has turned to its biggest conglomerate, Gree Electric, to take on the task. Next month (August), the Xiangzhou fishing port will be officially closed and all the boats relocated to Hongwan (洪湾中心渔港) so that the redevelopment can get under way. It will be turned into a new landmark, centered on the stunning new ZhuhaiOpera House, which opened a year ago and dominates the coastal skyline already. 

More photos of the Xiangzhou Bay’s new Zhuhai Opera House by Zhu Zhehui here

2. Jiuzhou Port (九洲港) upgrade

Jiuzhou port today (cityofzhuhai.com)
Redevelopment plans for the Jiuzhou port. Photo: skyscrapercity

The Jiuzhou Port, opened in 1982, has grown into one of China’s largest passenger ferry stations, mostly serving commuters between Zhuhai and Hong Kong. It has become overloaded, and the 37-year-old port has been scheduled for redevelopment to begin by the end of the year. The first phase will focus on rebuilding the entry and exit hall, followed by a new passenger depot and a commercial port completed with a dock for yachts and a mixed-use marine culture themed development. The project will be anchored by a 320-meter, 65-storey sightseeing tower. This is also where Zhuhai’s plans for regional helicopter services are taking shape. Currently there are only sightseeing flights out to Dong’ao Island, but more are planned for the near future.

3. Xiawan wholesale market redevelopment

A new large-scale mixed-use development is rising from the site of the Xiawan wholesale market. 

The 20-year-old wholesale market in the Border Gate area (known as Gongbei) was the result of an unfinished real estate development. In April this year, the market officially ceased operation and in its place is being developed a large-scale mixed-use urban development. 

4. Artificial intelligence industry buildout

Digital giant Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei have signed an agreement with the city government to build an industrial value chain for artificial intelligence and turn Zhuhai into a showcase window for the AI industry. The companies will work with local authorities in the fields of smart cities, smart transportation and smart medical care. 

5. Agricultural demo zone creation

Zhuhai’s Doumen district has launchedconstruction of a new experimental zonefocused on agricultural development. The 156,000 sqm project is expected to be completed in the first half of next year, with an initial annual output target for vegetable and fruits of 5,000 tonnes. The produce will be mainly sold to Hong Kong, Macau and other major cities in the GBA. 

6. A cross-harbour tunnel 

The city plans to build a cross-harbour tunnel parallel to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB). The western/eastern end of the tunnel will be linked with the HZMB to help ease traffic and provide a harbor-crossing alternative when the road-only HZMB is blocked due to the summer typhons. This is a very preliminary idea.

7. Metro buildout

Zhuhai is planning to build its own Metro, with two lines, which is awaiting State Council approval. 

8. Three new high-speed railways 

New hi-speed railways are being planned to connect Zhuhai to the rest of the GBA and the country. The most important of these is probably the hi-speed link to Shenzhen, which will bring the eastern and western GBA cities within a 20-minute journey from each other. Read our detailed report here.

9. Airport Railway (Hengqin link) 

Map showing the new railway route (China Daily)

The first phase of the railway link between downtown Zhuhai and the airport out in Jinwan is scheduled to openon November 20. Its first phase will run out to Hengqin, where it will pass through the new Hengqin Railway Station and end at the Chimelong station. By 2026, it will be extended out to the airport.

10. Airport upgrade 

The Zhuhai Airport has already confirmed an upgrade and expansion plan with a total investment of RMB8 billion. By the end of this year, the airport will have an additional 31 parking bays and by 2023, it will complete the building of the second terminal. Upon completion, the airport will serve an annual passenger flow of 25 million to 30 million, offering seamless connection with the Metro, Intercity Railway and vehicle transportation. The airport upgrade is only part of a bigger “aerotropolis” plan for the area, which will include manufacturing, logistics and aviation-related services.

11. Gongbei Port Upgrade 

Gongbei Port, the main border crossing between Macau and Zhuhai, is undergoing a four-month long upgrade from July 10 to November 30. The new renovation project will add a wind and rain corridor to the site as well as restore the structure damaged during the typhoon season. 

Keep an eye on Greater Bay Insight for more news to come on Zhuhai’s ambitious development plans.

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