The Australia China 2.0 Mission kicked off today in Guangzhou, and a group of over 100 Australians (the largest ever Australian delegation in China) has now completed the first leg of this 6 day mission to China's emerging cities. As the third largest city in China, Guangzhou could not be described as anything other than a "first tier" city, with its striking mix of dazzling skyscrapers, modern iconic landmarks (the Guangzhou Opera House was particularly impressive) and industrial centres. However, having been a regular traveller to Guangzhou in the past, I am amazed by its transformation in only the last 3 years. When I lived in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s, Guangzhou was always regarded as a bit of a "dump". A crowded, polluted and often dangerous city in which you spent as little time as necessary and stopped on the way to somewhere else. But, as a result of the recent Asian Games, the city has been completely transformed into a clean, green and modern metropolis, with wide and open highways, manicured gardens and the sparkling Pearl River running through the centre. I even heard today (not yet validated) that you can drink the water from the Pearl River...something that would never have been entertained in the past!
It was announced back in January (see article here) that Guangzhou is one of nine cities in the Pearl River Delta that will be combined to create the world's biggest "mega city", with a population of 42 million and an urban area of 16,000-square miles, which is 26 times larger than Greater London. When combined with Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing, this new city would represent one tenth of the Chinese economy and become the largest "city" in the world. Whilst local businesses confirmed the benefits and extra convenience of high speed rail links between these nine cities, there still seems to be some way to go before the political leaders of each city offer a seamless, open and level playing field that would allow businesses to operate in one rather than nine separate cities. Like many announcements in China, this may have to be regarded as a "vision" rather than a "plan", but you wouldn't want to bet against it actually happening....
Can you imagine a new "mega-city" of nearly 50 million people?! Astronauts have (apparently) said that the Great Wall of China is the only man made structure that you can easily see in space....the 9 cities of the Pearl River Delta would have to come very close to that!
Tomorrow we fly to Changsha for our first look at a "second tier" city! I have a feeling it won't look much different!