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Shanghai a reflection of China's future

Updated: 2021-05-20

The city is also aiming to maximize the potential of its suburban areas, having rolled out action plans to transform five existing outer districts into hubs for industries such as automobiles and science and technology.

"When we talk about opening-up, the importance of internal opening-up should not go unnoticed," said Shi Liangping, an economic researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "Only by tearing down administrative barriers, such as those between cities and provinces, can we unleash more room for growth."

In terms of catering to overseas markets, Shanghai should strengthen its role as a bridgehead for the Belt and Road Initiative by leveraging its free-trade zone and the annual China International Import Expo, Shi said.

One way to do so is to hinge on the headquarters economy. This approach, which is one of the five pillars of development that the municipal government is focusing on, would help persuade global corporations to set up their regional headquarters in the city.

The other four pillars are innovation, service, openness and online traffic.

By the end of last year, Shanghai was home to 771 regional headquarters of multinational corporations, among which 112 were Fortune Global 500 companies.

Despite these impressive numbers, there is still room for progress. Tang Zilai, a professor of architecture and urban planning at Tongji University in Shanghai, points out that there is still a gap between Shanghai's status quo as a gateway city and its desired title as a true global hub.

"Only seven Fortune 500 corporations are headquartered in Shanghai," Tang said. "While the city has in part managed to handle global resources, it isn't well prepared for conducting global resources allocation, and that's the direction Shanghai should be moving toward."

To accelerate its transformation into a global financial and technology center, the Shanghai government had in the municipal version of the 14th Five-Year Plan proposed speeding up the construction of the bond market, amplifying the influence of gold and crude oil futures traded in Shanghai and implementing new pilots for matters like digital currency.

But it will ultimately be the service level and business environment that foreign companies are most concerned about, said Mei Yan, senior partner and chairwoman of China's Brunswick Group operations. To make these two aspects more attractive, the government should promote opening-up in new sectors, ensure fair and equitable competition and provide legal protection for foreign companies, she noted.

The concept of "openness", however, should not be limited to the government's approach of luring more international firms. According to Tang, it is equally important to cultivate domestic enterprises and have them set up their headquarters in Shanghai.

"Domestic companies that manage to combine global resources and local expertise exemplify the dual circulation pattern that the central government is calling for," Tang said.

Xing Yi contributed to this story.

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