"The Free Trade Zone in Shanghai is a great giant step forward for China," said Allan Zeman, chairman of Hong Kong Ocean Park, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
Zeman, born in Germany and raised in Canada, is a Hong Kong business magnate and is known in Hong Kong as the Father of Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), a popular expatriate haunt in Hong Kong for drinking, clubbing and dining.
The Shanghai pilot free trade zone (FTZ) was inaugurated on Sunday, launching a test bed for the Chinese leadership's drive of deepening market-oriented reforms and boosting economic vitality.
Zeman considers Shanghai FTZ as an experiment to see how China will open up and develop in a higher level.
"I think that the FTZ in Shanghai is a great giant step forward for China. It is like Pudong which helped Shanghai. I still remember standing in Pudong and looking across the river and the Pudong was gonna be the new financial area," Zeman said.
Pudong, which covers an area of 570 square km, opened up to foreign investors in 1990 and was listed by the central government as a test field for comprehensive reforms in 2005.
As the first Hong Kong-like free trade area in Chinese mainland, the FTZ plan was first announced by the government in July and it was seen as a snapshot of how China can upgrade its economic structure.
Zeman also supposes FTZ as something very special. "It is really a mini Hong Kong, because you have liberalizing of everything at that moment which is a kind of restricted in China."
He said it will be a liberal area like Hong Kong in hotels, service industries, banking and so on. "They don't have to go to normal regulations for banks to set up free flow of RMB, business and so I believe it will work very well and grow very fast."
The FTZ covers 28.78 square km in which 36 companies had given licenses to operate.
Zeman perceives that it is a smart choice to found FTZ with banking of Shanghai. "It's doing in a small scale. I think it's very doable in Shanghai and choosing Shanghai as the first city is also very good, because Shanghai is a great, international city. People feel comfortable doing business in Shanghai. If it works, it will get expand to other cities within China."
A range of opportunities of FTZ lures investors from both China and abroad. As the both helmsman of LKF and Hong Kong Ocean Park, Zeman also cast his eyes on the area. He said a new LKF project would be unveiled in Shanghai in the near future.
"We are now looking at a big project in Shanghai and Shanghai is a very great market actually. The people, purchasing power, and the internationalism in Shanghai help it grow up. It's one of my favorite cities now in the world. We are looking at very good areas and hopefully in the next few month we can make an announcement."
Besides Chengdu, Haikou and Wuxi, LKF is searching for more cooperations with the local governments in China. "I believe all of China now is ready for Lan Kwai Fong. I have more than 20 governments approaching me from Harbin, Shenyang, Dalian, and Wuhan. The project in Haikou will open next year."
Living in Hong Kong for more than 40 years, Zeman experienced China's transformation and he thinks that China has changed dramatically as well as people's lifestyle.
"People in China now have good opportunities in employment and making money. They are looking for the lifestyle in the night time after work. They need an area to meet friends, entertain clients. LKF brings the lifestyle just as it did in Hong Kong and now Chengdu."
Becoming a Chinese citizen in 2008, Zeman also feels optimistic about China's future. "The world is now looking at China with different eyes. Entrepreneurs set up their business more and more in China due to the problems in Europe and U.S.. Now they are thinking of bringing more money out to invest in China."
"China is the second largest economy in the world at the moment. So there's a lot of business to be done here. And I think many companies around the world now thinking differently about this part of the world," he added.