When we, the Korean press delegation, arrived at Weifang on June 26, it was already past noon. We unpacked our bags at the hotel and attended the lunch banquet hosted immediately by Ding Hanbang, vice head of the Weifang municipal publicity department. Speaking of a lunch dish made with radish, the vice head bragged that the peel of radish from the city tastes better than apple. When he said that about 10 percent of China’s radish comes from Weifang, I thought the city must be a traditional agrotown.
I felt more confident in the idea after I visited kite manufacturing factories in Weifang that afternoon. As the home to Chinese kites, Weifang has an annual production capacity of 80 million kites, which accounts for around 80 percent of China’s annual kite demand, and generates a revenue of 200 million yuan (US$30 million). In a village called “Wang Jia Village,” 2,000 out of its 4,400 residents work at the household kite production factories, explained Kang Bin, vice president at China Daily. .
The factories can customize the design for the kites according to customers' individual requirements, such as adding customized illustrations or prints of famous children's cartoon characters. Thanks to its kite production, Wang Jia Village was designated as a provincial characteristic tourism village.
As many younger people are moving to urban areas, homemakers in the village make 100 yuan (US$15) a day at the factories while taking care of their children and aged parents. It is higher than the income of average city workers. Since the village is recently short of workers, it is importing labor from other regions. Kites manufactured at the village are exported to Middle East, the U.S., Korea and Japan as well as all regions across China. The Weifang municipal government has made every effort to push for the development of enterprises in the industry and sought new economic growth engines for them.
My belief that Weifang is a city solely dependent on agriculture and traditional industry, however, proved to be wrong at the dinner party arranged by Xu Shaoning, the head of the municipal publicity department on the same day. Weifang consists of 50 percent of manufacturing industry, 40 percent of service industry and 10 percent of agriculture and fisheries industry, according to Xu. I was able to check the aspect of Weifang as an industrial city during the itinerary next day.
Geographic Location and Investment Climate
Located at the center of Shandong Peninsular and facing the Laizhou Bay of Bohai Sea to the north, Weifang is a significant node in the economic circle of Bohai Sea area. Equipped with railways connecting Beijing and Shanghai, the city is China’s national strategic region which serves as a transportation hub with ports opening to overseas and a city airport having routes to many cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Weifang has played the roles as the capital of kites around the world, the capital of Chinese paintings, and the valley of Chinese food. Titled “China Human Settlements and Environment Award,” the city was voted as the city of national garden and tourism. Weifang has been a key area of many dynasties or regimes with ups and downs since residents started living in the river and water area from some 7,000 years ago. It is also well known as a city producing lots of famous poets and calligraphers. In particular, Weifang is the hometown of the first Chinese Noble prize laureate in literature, Mo Yan.
The administration of Weifang consists of four districts, six counties, including the High-tech Industrial Development Zone, the Binhai Economic and Technological Development Zone, the Comprehensive Bonded Zone and three National Economic Zones in a total acreage of 16,100 square kilometers with 9.28 million residents. The city is emerging as a China’s major food city and science and technology-based city.
Pillar Industries Growing Together with Agro Sector
Weifang boasts rich natural resources with a solid industrial foundation. Based on them, the pillar industries, such as mechanized equipment, petrification and salinization, textile, paper packaging, food processing and digital information, have been well established in the city, with key business revenue of industrial enterprises exceeding 1.3 trillion yuan (US$197 billion).
Weifang is also an important base for producing and processing agricultural products and for innovation in vegetable seed industry as well as a representative zone for international cooperation in the agricultural sector. Its exports of poultry and vegetable account for one eights of the country as a whole.
Weifang achieved 517.05 billion yuan (US$78.35 billion) in the regional GDP last year, with an annual growth of 8.3 percent. Export and import volume reached US$18.92 billion, up 6.5 percent year-on-year. Due to the geographical advantage, similar cultural background and complementary industries, Weifang has become a key city in the economic cooperation among South Korea, China and Japan and China, having engaged in increasingly close communication and cooperation with the two neighboring countries. Until now, South Korea and Japan have set up 211 enterprises in Weifang, which makes the two countries the second and third largest trade partners with the city.
Weifang Holds Annual China-South Korea-Japan Expo
The first “China-South Korea-Japan Industrial Exposition” was successfully held in Weighing from September 23 to 25 last year. Under the slogan of “Opening, Cooperation and Win-win,” Weifang installed 1,880 booths for 579 companies mainly in digital electronic, manufacturing, health and beauty industries. The expo was visited by 100,000 people. And contracts worth a total of 37.66 billion yuan (US$5.70 billion) for a total of 47 projects. The contracts cover fields of manufacturing, modern agriculture and regional cooperation and technological cooperation.
During the exhibition, Weifang prepared for the opening of a temporary direct line with Incheon.
The exposition is expected to be held in Weifang in September this year, too, to promote, in particular, communications and exchanges in the sectors of trade, investment, technology, culture and tourism. The second China-South Korea-Japan Industrial Exposition is to be held in Weifang for three days from Sep. 23 to 25. The event, jointly sponsored by Korea Trade-Promotion Agency (KOTRA), China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), will be held under the same theme “Opening, Cooperation and Win-win” as that of the last, already attracting attention from Chinese corporations as well as those from South Korea and Japan. A total of 2,120 companies from those three countries have applied to the event this year and 579 of them have been finally selected. In particular, South Korean and Japanese companies showed a lot of interest in the event as shown in the number of participants. 332 companies from those two countries were selected, accounting for more than 50% of all the participants in the expo. During the event, 1,066 out of the total 1,886 booths will be provided to the enterprises from the two countries.
During the expo period, Weifang City will open temporary airlines connecting the city to Incheon in South Korea, and Osaka in Japan.
Investment and Trade with South Korea
The trade between Weifang and South Korea totaled US$1.08 billion in 2015. The figure accounted for 6.1 percent of the city’s total trade volume and was the third largest among 209 trading countries. Japan is the second biggest trading country of Weifang with US$2.03 billion. First place went to the U.S. with trade amounting to US$2.77 billion.
The city’s export to South Korea reached US$600 million, accounting for 4.9 percent of the total export figures. Major exports included agricultural products worth US$190 million, agrichemical products worth US$150 million, machine products worth US$100 million and clothing products worth US$96.47 million.
The total amount of imports from South Korea reached US$480 million, taking up 8.9 percent of the city’s total imports. Major imports included plastic products worth US$220 million, machine products worth US$110 million and IT and high-tech products worth US$3,106.
By the end of 2015, Weifang approved 847 Korean projects, making up 18.28 percent of the city’s total investment projects. The total contracted investments and the actual foreign capital investments made stood at US$3.26 billion and US$904 million, accounting for 16.56 percent and 7.9 percent of the city’s total amount, respectively. As of June 2016, a total of 78 South Korean companies are doing business in Weifang and the total cumulative investments reach US$620 million. Japan has made the US$1.65 billion investment in the city and the foreign capital worth US$770 million have been actually invested.
South Korea’s investment in Weifang has been focusing on chemical materials, chemical products and textiles. With the investment of US$78.55 million, including US$12.82 million of actual foreign investments from Lotte Chemical, LG Chem and Korea Daeil Material established a joint venture, investing US$50.45 million, including the actual foreign capital of US$2.2 million. The joint venture produces and sells products related to PVC, hydrogen, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, and aqueous chlorine. In addition, Shangdong Clean Food Co., Ltd., which was founded with the US$41.15 million investment from Korea, including US$26.90 million of foreign capital, manufactures and sells fruit and vegetable processed products and solid seasoning.
Among top 500 global companies, Lotte Group and SK Group have invested in Weifang.
On the other hand, 13 Weifang-based firms opened its office in Korea, running 14 companies, as of the end of 2015. The figures took up 6.6 percent of the total number of companies conducting business overseas. The total contracted investments stood at US$59.36 million, making up for 1.6 percent of the city’s total foreign investments. The city’s investments to Japan amounted to US$31.7 million.
By investment area, Weifang made investment in two research centers, 10 sales representative offices and two processing plants. Particularly, an electronics company, which was established in March 2008 with the US$19.8 million investment in Korea by a Weifang-based Chinese company, usually researches on bluetooth products and trades technical services and related products. In July 2015, Shandong Great Machinery jointly founded Great Machinery Energy and Auto Company in South Korea worth US$25 million with a Korean firm by investing US$17.75 million in South Gyeongsang Province of Korea. The joint venture produces and sells new energy and clean energy vehicles and related components.
City with Rich Cultural Heritages and Tourism Resources
With a long history and rich cultural heritage, Weifang has many bases to protect intangible cultural heritages, including those for Yangjiabu folk art, Honggaoliang folk art and custom, and the arts of paper-cut and the Chinese Zither, which have been selected and placed on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
In particular, the county-level city Qingzhou, affiliated to Weifang and with a recorded history of 5,000 years, preserves well the ancient city scenery of Ming (AD 1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) Dynasties. Qingzhou is home to hundreds of well-preserved ancient streets where more than 80 traditional folk games are performed every day.
Zhao Xingtang, one of the performers who played a kind of traditional zither-like instrument called a cuoqing, said he has performed in the ancient city for three years and is rewarded 50 yuan (US$7.5) a day by the municipal government.
"The municipal government will organize inheritors to perform in the ancient city and give them a certain amount of subsidies," said Li Chuanjiang, the director from the foreign publicity department of Weifang, adding, “The city is going to encourage more residents to get involved in the preserving local cultural heritages.”
Qingzhou is also equipped with a museum that was set up in 1959 and rebuilt in 1984. The Qingzhou Museum is thought to be one of the oldest museums in China. The museum has 10 exhibition halls, covering an area of 26,666 square meters, and displays more than 40,000 pieces of cultural relics ranging from pottery and jade sculpture to bronze ware and stone inscriptions, some of which date back as far as China's ancient Shang (1600 BC–1046 BC) and Zhou (1046–256 BC) Dynasties, and even further.
The city also boasts the largest Dinosaur fossil group in the world and the ancient crater group including rare Shanwang fossil.
The dinosaurs created artificially in Jurassic Park, a Hollywood blockbuster, are well known worldwide, but fewer know about the real world of the Jurassic era in Zhucheng, another county belonging to Weifang.
Dinosaur fossils were found at more than 30 sites in Zhucheng, covering a total of 1,600 square kilometers, which covers over 80 percent of some 2,200 square kilometers of the county’s total size.
Dinosaur fossils were first found in the region in 1964 when prospectors from the former National Geological Ministry were looking for oil. They discovered fossilized dinosaur remains, which were identified later as those from a Shantungosaurus giganteus, the largest non-sauropod dinosaur found ever so far.
The municipal government built a museum for the Tyrannosaurus in 2008 on a site where archaeologists found fossils of the Zhuchengtyrannus magnus, Asia's largest and China's only tyrannosaur species. Another museum Zhucheng Dinosaur Cubic displays 48 restored dinosaur skeletons in addition to pictures, models and videos. The most valuable exhibits include some ceratopsid dinosaur skeletons.
Dinosaur attractions in the area have 500,000 visitors a year, mostly children. Special events are sometimes organized, such as simulated fossil excavations, dinosaur drawing and model skeleton installation. Just some part of the original excavation site is exposed to visitors with around 2,000 piece fossils of four kinds of dinosaurs, including the tyrannosaur.
The “Discovery Shandong” tour program for seven days, which had been prepared by China Daily, gave me wider and deeper understanding on the economy and culture of Shandong Peninsular, further on the changing China. I would like to extend my heartful thanks to all the tour program-involved personnel who showed warm kindness and friendship throughout the tour, including vice president Kang Bin and staff from China Daily as well as officials of the municipal governments.