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Coming change dazzles new area

By ZHANG YU, HOU LIQIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-10 05:07

Coming change dazzles new area

Tourists visit Baiyangdian, the largest freshwater wetland in northern China, in Hebei province's Anxin county. Soaring tourism has been just one sign of huge interest in the locality after it was announced it will be part of Xiongan New Area. ZHAI YUJIA / CHINA NEWS SERVICE

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Xu Linghua, who runs an electrical cable manufacturing company, has never been so busy. He said he has gotten "countless calls" since April 1, and at times has even had to turn off his phone so he can get his work done.

The calls are from private equity firms, current and potential partners, and investment companies, all wanting to talk about business deals. His schedule is now packed with meetings with Chinese and overseas visitors.

"Previously, many of these same people would not meet with me even if I'd taken the initiative to ask for a meeting," said Xu, chairman of Taidou Cable Group, a company based in Xiongxian county, Hebei province, with sales last year of 560 million yuan ($81.1 million).

The change came when it was announced on April 1 that China will establish the Xiongan New Area in his part of Hebei. The area will hold the same national significance as the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and the Shanghai Pudong New Area, according to a circular issued by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.

The new area will span three counties — Xiongxian, Anxin and Rongcheng — at the center of a triangular area formed by Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei's provincial capital, Shijiazhuang.

About a week after hearing the news, people in and around the three counties were still having lively discussions about the project and what it might mean for them.

Xu described the plans as a "rocket" that will put the company on a development fast track and create a lot of new opportunities.

"Previously, many people didn't know Xiongxian at all, so I had to set up a factory in Tianjin to gain credibility. Now, almost everyone in the country knows our small county," he said.

Attracting top-quality workers to Xiongxian used to be hard, even though Taidou Cable offered decent salaries, he said. "Due to the lack of workers with expertise in international trade, we don't export much. But the new area will help attract a lot of talent and we plan to expand exports with their help," he added. "I'm also expecting to work with research institutes that set up centers here to upgrade our products."

The new area will create a favorable environment for innovation and attract talent to help create a "high ground" for innovation and a new science and technology city, He Lifeng, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, has said. The commission is the top economic planner.

Liu Dongchen, a wetland protection official in Anxin, was so excited he wrote a poem to celebrate. "Even if I were Chen Tuan, I would be too excited to fall asleep at night after hearing the news," he wrote. Chen, a Taoist sage during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), was a master at controlling his energies and, legend has it, was able to sleep for long periods.

Classmates called and sent messages nonstop on the WeChat service to congratulate Liu after news of the new area was released, he said. "One of my classmates has emigrated to Singapore. He called and said there will be earthshaking changes here (in Anxin) and that he will look for opportunities to come back."

The excitement also spread to schools. Gao Chunqing, principal of Zhangzhuang Primary School in Xiongxian, held an assembly about the new area for all 272 students and 16 teachers as soon as school resumed on Wednesday after the annual Tomb Sweeping Day holiday.

Calling the planned Xiongan a green, intelligent city and a "world-class starting point", he urged students to study hard to prepare for the "many opportunities" to come. He also warned them that they "will be weeded out as the new area develops" if they fail to equip themselves with enough knowledge.

"The focus on Xiongan is global. No matter where you go, people are cheering the news," Gao said.

For some people, though, such as seniors, the excitement is also coupled with concern. Zhang Baozeng, a farmer in Anxin's Zhongliu village, for example, said he is worried about making a living after his land is used to build the new area.

"As farmers, we didn't get much of an education. We're not able to compete with high-end talent," he said. "I'm 60 and don't have the skills that could help find me a job."

Many villagers were also worried they may have trouble adapting to city life or jobs with fixed office hours.

Xu said some locals may have "growing pains". Many who were able to go to college left, while most who remain did not go beyond junior or senior high school. They are likely to find that many jobs in low-end, polluting industries will be lost, he said.

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