Russia-Guangdong Forum: Introducing China’s economic powerhouse
More than 200 Russian and Chinese experts from various fields met at the ‘Russia and Guangdong: Building the future together’ forum in Moscow. Symbolically the event coincided with China’s traditional Mid-Autumn Festival. Speakers shared views on the importance of developing regional ties and why Guangdong is proving to be one of the most promising destinations for Russians and other foreigners heading to China for work, study or travel.
Land of entrepreneurs
The south eastern province of Guangdong is home to more than 100 million people, making it the country’s most populous region. Apart from the biggest population, Guangdong also boasts the largest economy with a provincial GDP ($1.44 trillion in 2018) comparable to some countries’. Its vibrant mega-cities, such as Shenzhen, Zhuhai and the region’s capital, Guangzhou, have long become important international hubs for finance, technology, transportation, trade, and manufacturing.
“China is the land of entrepreneurs, and that’s even more visible in Guangdong,” says Artem Zhdanov, a Russian businessman living in Shenzhen, now known as the world’s electronics capital and home to tech giants like Huawei and DJI. For the 29-year-old, there was no question about where to base his business development firm and website about China. “Nowhere in the world are products made as fast as in Shenzhen.”
China’s most open region
Like Artem, other foreign businessmen choose Guangdong for its “international way of doing business”. The opportunity to “network, meet people from different areas, find like-minded partners and realise almost any idea” is what inspired another Russian expat, Ilya Gutov, to choose the province to launch his firm that helps foreign app and games developers enter China.
Coastal Guangdong, along with the nearby special administrative cities of Hong Kong and Macau, has long been among the most open regions in China. It began when Chinese tea, porcelain, silk and other luxury goods made their way to Europe and beyond along the ancient Silk Road. Now the nine cities of Guandong, Hong Kong and Macau make up the so-called Greater Bay Area (GBA), which is set to develop into a world-class urban cluster.
According to Beijing’s master plan, the integrated bay area will spur the country’s economy and rival other global bay areas, such as San Francisco, New York and Tokyo. The GBA is also a “key component of the Belt and Road Initiative”, says Li Ang of the Guangdong University of Foreign Languages and International Trade. “It’s a bright pearl on the Chinese land that now shines throughout the world.”
Cultivating skilled and competitive workforce
Guangdong also aims to become a hub for higher education, with several of its universities ranking among the world’s best. For anyone coming to study in the province, “there is a unique opportunity to become part of the world’s economic centre and live in the fastest growing city in the world”, says Pyotr Kalmykov of the Shenzhen MSU-BIT University.
Opened only two years ago, the joint project between the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Beijing Institute of Technology is said to give students “a competitive advantage” in their chosen disciplines, as well as in the Chinese and Russian languages. That’s why MSU-BIT graduates “will be in high demand and contribute to strengthening the partnership between our countries”, adds Kalmykov. His colleague, MSU Professor, Svetlana Kirzhanova, encourages Russian students to join the university in Shenzhen to take part in its language and culture exchange.
Although Guangdong is “further from Russia than any other Chinese province, we will cover this distance” says director of radio for the Guangdong Radio and Television (GRT) company, Gao Guoxin. With regular flights from Moscow and other Russian cities to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Honk Kong, Russians can easily explore the province’s rich cultural traditions, food, and architecture. Russian holiday-makers already enjoy a simplified procedure for obtaining a Chinese visa.
During the forum, speakers also agreed that partnerships between the countries’ media companies are vital in strengthening ties between Russia and Guangdong. “[Chinese and Russian] media should actively engage in cultural projects and develop public diplomacy together” says head of international projects at the Sputnik news agency, Vasily Pushkov. He is also pinning hopes on a partnership between Sputnik, Guangdong and the GRT company in “helping mutual understanding between our people.”
The Russia-Guangdong forum was held as part of the China Festival in Moscow, dedicated to the upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the formal establishment of Sino-Russian relations. Both governments have declared 2018 and 2019 to be years of cooperation between Russia’s regions and China’s provinces. The head of Moscow’s China Cultural Centre, Gong Jiajia, says she hopes the event will serve as “a sincere invitation to Russian entrepreneurs and experts in finance, economy, culture and education, to take part in the development of the Greater Bay Area for mutual prosperity”.
Businessman, Sergey Zhang Sha, said he was happy that Russians “had an opportunity to find out about the potential of Guangdong.” The region that is serving as the driver of China’s economic growth “will certainly play an important role in deepening the alliance [between Moscow and Beijing]”, says Gao Guoxin. Bilateral trade exceeded $100 billion last year and Guangdong already accounts for nearly a tenth of it, perhaps that explains why Russian businessmen, students and tourists are paying ever more attention to a region that is increasingly punching above its weight.