China’s tallest building and the world’s highest observation deck --- the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Centre --- opened last month in the finance and trade district of Pudong, in east Shanghai.
And deep under the Yangtze River, construction goes on for the world’s widest tunnel where an expressway and railway line will cut travel time between Pudong and two urban islands from 90 minutes to 20 minutes, by 2010.
“In 1980, when I first came to China, Pudong was rural farmland like Gurgaon,” recalled Indian-American Mo Perwaiz, General Manager of Air Tech Asia in Tianjin, near Beijing. “I have seen both Gurgaon and Pudong grow around the same time through the ’90s,” he said.
Today, Pudong is a world apart, with an almost
Mumbai-sized sprawl of the world’s leading businesses (including Infosys, Wipro and Satyam), banks and factories. Over 18 years, it has attracted more than 16,000 foreign-funded projects.
“The biggest difference was that Gurgaon mushroomed on its own. But what I see in Pudong today, I knew about 10 years ago,” said Perwaiz, who has been visiting China for 28 years, and living here for the last 14. “We could tell exactly where a building, highway or bridge was going to come up,” he said.
This year alone, investments worth around five billion dollars are expected to flow into Pudong.
“The main difference in the growth of infrastructure in India and China is that China gives real power to its cities, and strong incentive to perform,” said Shomik Mehndiratta, a senior infrastructure specialist at the World Bank in Beijing.
“The ‘new’ Gurgaon is not even managed by its own council,” pointed out Mehndiratta, adding, “Gurgaon also needs to be headed by a manager, ideally one who is paid a multinational-level salary. And if he does not perform, they should be able to get rid of him.”
Pudong’s planners worked on the ‘infrastructure first’ principle and invited the world to invest after ensuring uninterrupted power supply and a transport mesh of expressways, under-river tunnels, bridges, a new airport and ports.
But experts also point out that the scale of Pudong’s initial growth was too fast. Approvals for hundreds of high-rises would take hardly 12 days each. The 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Centre has opened to only 45-per cent occupancy.
“Today, there is no better place than Pudong to set up a factory in,” said Perwaiz. “But investors also tell me they find it too expensive,” he adds.
But China is already building new Pudongs. “Many of the 600-odd largest Chinese cities have built new cities,” said Mehndiratta.
Tomorrow, Tianjin near Beijing will be the next focus of government planning, said Johnson Lam, Chief Executive Officer, Tata Consultancy Services, in Beijing.