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Gambling in the cards for Hainan?

By MA ZHIPING, Li xiang | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-16 02:32

Opening-up idea sees island as global tourist destination and free-trade zone

China's plans to further open its economy, including the latest measure to build Hainan island into an international free-trade zone, reaffirmed the country's commitment to market liberalization and its role as a key driver of global growth, experts said.

The tropical island province of Hainan, known for its sandy beaches and resort-dotted coastline, gained prime attention from home and aboard over the weekend after President Xi Jinping announced a grand plan that helped define the island's future role.

The central government has decided to set up an investment fund to support building a free-trade port in Hainan by 2025. Foreign firms and multinational companies will be encouraged to set up international and regional headquarters on the island, according to a detailed official guideline released on Saturday.

China also plans to build Hainan into a global tourism and consumption hub and will support the development of horse racing and other projects, including beach and water sports in Hainan.

The island also will "explore the development of a sports betting and instant lottery on large-scale international competitions", and also will gradually phase out sales of traditional oil-fueled vehicles, according to the guideline.

Li Renjun, a professor at the Hainan Institute of Industrial Economy of Hainan University, said the opening-up measures include looking into whether introducing the gambling businesses will help boost the island's status as an international tourism destination.

"The measures will have a strong demonstrative effect in terms of policy innovation," Li said, adding that the new plan will generate huge investment opportunities for foreign companies in tourism, education, and cultural and creative industries.

Hainan is expected to attract more than 80 million tourists a year by 2020, including 1.2 million from overseas. Total annual tourism revenue will surpass 100 billion yuan ($15.9 billion) by that time, experts estimate.

Yuval Golan, chairman of Unique 1 Asia International, a foreign consulting firm in Hainan, said the government should focus on developing local tourism brands and products and improving infrastructure and services to attract and retain foreign expert workers.

The new plan for Hainan was widely seen as a concrete market liberalization measure following Xi's speech at the Boao Forum for Asia and as a major embodiment of the country's next round of reform and opening-up policies.

The move also sent a reassuring message of China's continuous commitment to openness and free trade at a time when global growth is challenged by rising trade friction, protectionism and geopolitical uncertainties, experts said.

Jon Taylor, a China specialist and a professor of Political Science at University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, said the expansion of China's openness will create an environment that fosters more stability, transparency and predictability for Chinese and foreign firms.

The new opening-up measures will generate more foreign investment and development opportunities in China and will benefit the global economy, as it will help reduce trade barriers, expand market access and enhance global economic prosperity, Taylor said.

Robin Xing, chief China economist at Morgan Stanley, said Xi's speech reaffirmed the view that China is committed to economic liberalization and promotion of globalization.

Piyush Gupta, chief executive of DBS Group, a Singapore-based financial service group, said Xi's announcement indicated a strong desire to further open up on several fronts.

Chen Weihua in Washington and Jiang Xueqing also contributed to this story.

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