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Chengdu is home to the giant panda.
Capital city of Sichuan becoming economic center as businesses look westward
Half a year from now, business leaders from around the world will be gathering in Southwest China's Chengdu for the 2013 Fortune Global Forum, an event organized by the business magazine Fortune.
In 1999, when the prestigious summit was convened for the first time in China, in Shanghai, the country had not yet recovered from the Asian financial crisis. Nor was it a member of the World Trade Organization or the second-largest economy in the world.
Its economy was in fact the seventh-largest, coming in after Italy's in the ranking. Many foreign corporations, lured by the potential of the world's most populous country, had just entered China and were still wondering if the country's economic growth would prove durable.
The Fortune Global Forum has since been held twice in China, one in Hong Kong in 2001 and the other in Beijing in 2005, meaning the forum has taken place during various stages of the country's development.
China entered the WTO in 2001, a step that helped it become more integrated into the global economy. Next came several years of economic growth at double-digit percentages.
The country was able to stay on its feet during the global financial meltdown of 2008 and then overtook Japan two years later to become the second-largest economy in the world. China's potential to become a driver of global economic growth has turned into reality. Chengdu, once a place little known to foreigners, is now home to more than 200 of the companies appearing on the Fortune Global 500 listing of the world's largest companies.
In fact, a careful examination of the theme of each Fortune Global Forum gathering held in this country suggests how the world's perspective on China has quietly shifted.
The theme of the Shanghai Fortune Global Forum in 1999 was "The coming 50 years for China". When business leaders, economists and politicians from around the world then gathered in Pudong to discuss China's new business opportunities, the thriving cities along China's east coast were probably the things uppermost in their minds.
Liu Ge, a veteran reporter with China Central Television, said the late 1990s saw many overseas enterprises flock to Shanghai and the nearby cities of Suzhou and Kunshan to establish manufacture centers. The goods produced at these factories were exported throughout the globe, strengthening China's position known as the "world's factory".
Liu visited Chengdu last year and afterward said he had noticed strikingly similarities between Chengdu's industrial park and the industrial parks he had seen in Suzhou in the late 1990s.
What perhaps impressed him most was the city's burgeoning consumerism. In Chengdu's Chunxi Road, which is crowded by top brand retailers, Liu saw trendy young women dressed in clothes more commonly associated with their contemporaries in Beijing and Shanghai.
"Western companies look at China as a place of outsourcing and production," Serwer said. "Now these trends are certainly continuing, but another important part, the consumer part, is making more weight."
This, combined with the dramatic growth of China's western regions and the country's urbanization, are the chief reasons why Fortune selected "China's new future" as the theme for the forum next year.
"The story of western China is appealing to us," Serwer said.