The Changing Face Of Chengdu
Business Traveller UK|February 2020
Best known as the home of pandas, the business scene in the Sichuan capital is anything but black and white
Crystal Reid

First inhabited more than 4,000 years ago in the 18th to tenth centuries BC, Chengdu is an ancient city with modern means. The capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, its glass-fronted skyscrapers loom large beyond the sweeping eaves of a regenerated old town, while multi-lane highways stretch long and straight in contrast to the milky-green, meandering Jin River.

Surrounded by the fertile lands of the Sichuan Plain and overlooked by the Tibetan Plateau, Chengdu has long been dubbed the “Land of Abundance” thanks to the bountiful vegetables, meat and fish produced here. Now, as one of the most important economic hubs in China, it is business opportunities that are growing fast and sustaining this city of around 16 million people.

In recent years, Chengdu has benefited from a flurry of domestic and international investment thanks to President Xi Jinping’s signature One Belt One Road initiative, which seeks to reopen trade routes along the ancient Silk Road and spread economic growth towards the “wild west” of China. City officials found that this plan dovetailed nicely with already established policies of the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone, ultimately resulting in speedy development, local innovation and international interest.

Today, the business landscape is typified by the IT back offices and R&D centres of global giants such as Siemens, Nokia, SAP, IBM, Volkswagen and Apple alongside smaller boutique tech firms and start-ups. Some 41,000 new companies were registered in 2018 as Chengdu’s GDP reached a whopping 1.5 trillion yuan (£167 billion), rising by 8 per cent year-on-year, 1.4 per cent higher than the national average. Newer foreign start-ups are snapping at the heels of homegrown success stories such as Chengdu gaming firm Tap4Fun, beautifying phone app Camera360, and Huochebang, known as the Uber of trucking.

INTERNATIONAL OUTLOOK

With a strategic position at the start of the so-called Southern Silk Road, which connected Sichuan province to South Asia more than 2,000 years ago, Chengdu has a long legacy of trade with the wider world. As China seeks to attract overseas talent in the realms of technology, science, healthcare and innovation, local policies have focused on drawing in foreign business and expertise. Despite still having a relatively small expat population (about 17,000 people compared with 100,000 in Beijing and 200,000 in Shanghai), some 285 Fortune 500 companies had a presence in the city by the end of 2018, with foreign trade volume increasing by more than 26 per cent from a year earlier to 498 billion yuan (£55.5 billion). Chengdu is now ranked 71st in the world in terms of international outlook (up 27 places since 2017), according to the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network.

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