THIS year, the world joins China in celebrating the 40th anniversary of reform and opening-up. After four decades of momentous transformations, the nation now ushers in a sustainable new era. Today, as China casts open its doors even wider to the world, Shanghai stands on the threshold, welcoming more productive engagement globally.
Nowhere is this receptive stance more relevant than with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China’s trade and investment with Belt and Road (B&R) economies reached approximately 7.4 trillion yuan (US$1.1 trillion) in 2017, with increases in exports by roughly 12 percent, and nearly 27 percent for imports from the prior year.
Shanghai has been playing an essential role in driving progress along the B&R. As a result of the city’s continuous efforts, ranging from construction of a free trade port, promoting RMB use in bilateral trade, and enabling foreign entities along the B&R to raise funds and issue bonds through the Shanghai Stock Exchange, there is a clear course for success.
For the future, Shanghai should see its impact along the B&R enhanced by local development, particularly through mobilizing the Yangtze River Delta’s resources. Concurrently, efforts to utilize technology constructively can help entrench the city’s status as a center for innovation.
The Yangtze River Delta is a significant junction linking influential locations along the B&R. Shanghai has a special role to play in curating resources and talent in the cluster, enabling the most impactful engagement with the B&R Initiative.
Shanghai, with neighboring cities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, have been promoting integration within the cluster, enhancing the region’s coordinated competitiveness. As cohesive growth matures, new avenues for contributing to the BRI will arise.
Creating capital and talent pools that facilitate trade, investment, and other core economic interaction between the cluster and B&R economies will help ensure the best possible engagement. Further, establishing a joint innovation system among cities in the locale would facilitate conversion of technological R&D into commercial successes.
Similarly, Shanghai also has scope to energize the Yangtze River Economic Belt, which covers 20 percent of China’s land, while contributing almost half of the national economic output. As an established economic and transport hub, Shanghai is well equipped to assist nascent cities along the economic belt connect, spurring even faster development, with quicker adaptation to opportunities with countries along the B&R.
Additionally, China will host the inaugural China International Import Expo in Shanghai this year, strengthening economic cooperation and promoting global trade. To spur exhibition and trade of imported goods, special online and offline platforms have been established by Shanghai, designed to permanently sustain benefits associated with the six day event. The initial 30 platforms cover services, goods, cross-border e-commerce and professional trading. They aim to provide a broad base for promotion and longer-term access to China’s thriving markets via Shanghai.
Looking ahead, there may be more scope to extend these platforms, by gradually expanding their coverage of products, and allowing access of more purchasers. There could also be opportunities for e-commerce channels to smoothly connect foreign brands to the domestic market, optimizing synergies between online giants and offline retailers.
Augmenting connectivity aligns with Shanghai’s specific resources and meshes with coordinating innovations that improve the lives of residents of B&R countries.
Among Shanghai’s most pivotal resources is the array of talent, especially individuals innovating disruptive technologies. Around one third of China’s AI professionals now call Shanghai home, nurtured and attracted by a strong local industry, and traditional sectors eager to extend their horizons through technological advances.
As with business, local government has been keeping the city’s denizens at the forefront of innovation. Mobile-friendly applications such as “Citizen Cloud” offer residents online access to over 100 public services, ranging from health care to community activities. Projects for digitalization of public services like booking doctor appointments, traffic updates and mobile payments are just some innovations that Shanghai makes to improve lives. This focus on civic improvement also raises opportunities for supporting B&R countries by spreading benefits, while expanding Shanghai’s position as a hub of shared innovation.
Demonstrating the potential of technologies, a recent survey by PwC on the use of blockchain in non-financial businesses found the majority of respondents are optimistic about the technology’s budding uses. Retail, education and science were the non-financial industries registering the biggest impacts. Notably, participants hope that responsible governments will help guide the future of the technology, as standardized policy was named the most pressing challenge. To extrapolate, there appears to be an opportunity for Shanghai to use its established capacity in innovation to drive integration with B&R countries, defining shared practice for disruptive new technologies like blockchain.
Coupled with efforts to spur innovation there are ongoing steps for global promotion through Shanghai’s four brands plan — covering manufacturing, services, shopping and culture. These underpin the aim of becoming a city of global excellence, with worldwide influence. Accordingly, Shanghai is maintaining momentum in attracting and supporting influential modern businesses, ranging from nimble startups to titans of technology and commerce.
Shanghai stands at the frontier of reform and opening up in China’s new era. The city is well placed to fulfill essential responsibilities in the B&R initiative, thanks to strengths that come with being a hub of global resources, talent, and innovative technology. The government’s endeavors to boost business via advanced policies and planning supports development and integration along the Yangtze River and Belt and Road.
In this way, Shanghai is on course to continue opening opportunities that benefit the economy in China, and the world.