|Officials from Shanghai's Pudong New Area in a meeting with their peers from International Enterprise Singapore. [provided to China Daily]|
Shanghai sends officials to learn from Singapore
Six officials from Shanghai's Pudong New Area, where a much-anticipated free-trade zone will be located, have completed a training course in Singapore aimed at honing their skills in innovation, as they set about creating landmark attractions in the zone.
The officials have been working on establishing major projects, such as Disneyland and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo garden, and took temporary posts in Singapore from December to March to gain experience in economic innovation, urban planning and tourism development.
"Pudong is at a crucial stage … and needs an excellent team of officials with broad vision," said Feng Wei, the area's deputy Party chief.
Pudong, the eastern part of the business hub of Shanghai, has undergone major changes since it started the process of reform and opening up in 1990.
The Ministry of Commerce announced in August that the State Council had approved a pilot free-trade zone in Shanghai, occupying 28 square kilometers in Pudong.
"Selecting officials to train overseas is conducive to learning successful practices, which could serve as important references for decision-making to further Pudong's comprehensive reforms and promote economic restructuring driven by innovation," Feng said.
Shanghai Party Chief Han Zheng said at an organizational work conference in August that the city has come to a critical point and that no progress will be made without reform or innovation.
"What we need most are officials who have a strong sense of responsibility and dare to take the hard decisions," he said.
Except for a week of study in the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the six officials spent their time in 14 Singaporean departments that equate to their departments in China.
These included International Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board, the Sentosa Development Agency, and large enterprises, such as Raffles Medical Group and Keppel Land.
"So much can be learned in Singapore, which is also a free-trade port, as well as a financial and shipping center, and has a great tourism industry," Feng said. "Shanghai is expected to make major strides in these sectors."
Pudong is one of the pioneers in sending officials for training overseas. Since 1998, it has assigned more than 300 officials at division head level to foreign countries, including the United States and Britain, for training periods of three months or longer.
Huang Dan, general manager of the finance and accounting division of Shanghai Waigaoqiao Group, a State-owned enterprise involved in international trade and real estate development, took a temporary post in Keppel Land, one of Singapore's largest listed property companies.
Huang's focus was to observe market operations in Singapore and the free-trade mechanism.
Transaction costs in the country are impressively low, he said, despite high labor costs and property rents.
For example, he said, a financing project needs more than half a year to be approved by the China Securities Regulatory Commission, compared with a month in Singapore.
"The difference may mean that intermediary fees for a 2 billion yuan ($323,000) project may be 30 million yuan in our country, but it's only (the equivalent of) between 1 and 2 million in Singapore," he said.
Huang said he is clear the training works, in part, to prepare officials for Pudong's upcoming free-trade zone, which will come into full force in about 10 years.
"The significance of the zone does not lie in striving for preferential policies but establishing a system that abides by international practice and realizing highly efficient management," said Zhou Zhenhua, director of the Shanghai government's Development Research Center.
This is why officials need to learn from Singapore, Huang added.
"We still lag far behind," he said. "Customs declaration is completed in two minutes in Singapore. It takes several days in China."
Shanghai can also draw on the experience of Singapore's market admittance policies, he said.
Liu Yongyou, head of comprehensive planning for the management committee of Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone, took up a temporary post at the Singapore Tourism Board and the Sentosa Development Agency.
Singapore received more than 14 million overseas tourists last year, 2.5 times its population. The revenue that generated was 158 million yuan per sq km, which far surpassed Shanghai.
During Liu's two-month stay with the Singapore Tourism Board he focused on about 30 key questions to discover the secret of Singapore's success.
What impressed Liu most, he said, was how Singapore paid great attention to visitor experience. For example, workers at scenic spots each receive a budget of S$100 ($78) a month to spend on visitor needs, such as buying a child an ice cream if they drop it, or hailing a taxi to transfer a sick visitor to hospital.
He said it is a key innovation, as visitors now care more about differentiated and tailored services. "Only in this way can a scenic spot outperform other attractions."