Chengdu: Gateway to the West


As Australia prepares to open its new consulate in the western Chinese city of Chengdu, Austrade Trade Commissioner David Dukes discusses the opportunities for Australian business in this region.

Last year the Australian Government announced the forthcoming establishment of a Consulate-General in Chengdu. The Consulate-General will cover Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan and Guizhou. Australia has been represented in south-west China for a dozen years through the offices of Austrade in Kunming and Chengdu.

However, Austrade decided to prepare for the upgrading of Australian representation in the region by ramping up its own presence in West China and raising the tempo of Australian trade, investment and educational activities in these four provinces.

The upcoming Australian Spring in Chengdu, to last from mid-March to mid-June this year, will be the clearest demonstration of the Australian Government‘s commitment to West China. Co-sponsored by the Chengdu Government, this series of activities, probably the most comprehensive we have undertaken in a second-tier Chinese city, comprises around 30 trade, diplomatic, cultural and educational events.
The gala opening in Chengdu in early April will be celebrated in the presence of the first joint AustCham Beijing and Shanghai mission outside their home cities – they will be joined by an ACBC delegation.
The AustCham mission will visit Chengdu not just to explore its commercial opportunities but also to witness the inauguration of its sister organisation, AustCham West China. Launched just a few months ago with the support of Austrade, AustCham West China has moved forward quickly, already holding several very successful activities in Chengdu and Chongqing.
South-west China is more than lovely tea houses in quiet corners of Chengdu, and rhododendron covered high mountain slopes in spring. Its steady high growth rate and skilled workforce have been a drawcard for Australian businesses seeking to develop in the Chinese market, and for mineral and agricultural raw materials exporters drawing on the complementarity of the Australian and Chinese economies.
The consumer oriented lifestyle of the south-west, the joie de vivre of its city dwellers, have also made it a high priority market for Australian F&B and consumer exporters. Annual Australian retail weeks in Kunming have consistently outperformed similar promotions in other Chinese cities. Based on the enthusiastic response to date, we expect the retail events during Australian Spring in Chengdu to perform very well.
Looking outside the cities, we see not complementarity but similarities with Australia, based on topography and soils, on climate and natural resources. Strong sunshine and altitude differences in a single county can span the climate differences from Tasmania to Queensland.
Australians who have spent their holidays in Yunnan’s Lijiang and Dali will appreciate this diversity.
Liangshan Prefecture in south-west Sichuan has been a focus of Austrade market development work in recent months – it is a good example of the potential for Australian business in West China. Liangshan’s capital, Xichang, is a modern city located on a soon to be completed expressway from Chengdu to Kunming. It sits on a lake and is surrounded by mountains populated mainly by two million Yi people.  The Yi, or Nuosu as they call themselves, are an ethnic group still rooted in their traditional rural lifestyle, with their own language and phonetic-tonal alphabet of 800 characters.
They live in an area whose tourism potential is just starting to be exploited. Alpine scenery, hot springs (including a hot springs waterfall) and lively and authentic folk festivals make Liangshan a magnet for the city-weary people of Chengdu. Companies like Axis Leisure and Mericandaz are looking at planning and investment in Liangshan’s tourism sector.
In Liangshan there are obvious opportunities for Australian agricultural expertise, in sectors like cut flowers, grapes and wineries, new livestock varieties (e.g. Boer goats), olives, cherries, and vegetables like potatoes (an Yi staple). Inquiries seeking suppliers through Austrade’s opportunities system for Australian clients have elicited a strong response.
Mining is an important revenue source for the Liangshan authorities. The Sichuan Government has expressed its interest in working with Australian mining companies in sectors requiring new technology. Mining activities also create a market for Australian companies in sustainable mining practices, remediation and cleaning up waste water. Minerals processors in the region are seeking to modernise their systems; we have sought Australian suppliers to meet requirements for water and waste heat recycling as well as recovery of by-products.
We were somewhat surprised to discover a number of high quality schools in Xichang. We have been approached by two lower middle schools (Years 7-9), both specialising in English language teaching, to find partners for them in Australia to organise short term student and teacher exchanges.
Xichang College, established during the Second World War, is similarly keen to cooperate with Australian universities to set up joint courses and exchange programs, particularly in agriculture and anthropology. The lovely weather, location and friendliness of Xichang make such cooperation hard to resist. Talks are now underway with an Australian tertiary partner.
Mericandaz is an Australian company focussing on building and running public swimming pools and hot spring spas. Until recently, all its activities have been in Yunnan, but Austrade has now introduced them to Liangshan.

Mericandaz has developed a clever and unique business model whereby they export Australian water filtering and solar energy equipment for large pools, invest their equipment in newly built projects in public institutions, and manage and finance the maintenance of the pools on fixed term contracts. This relieves public authorities of the high cost burden of running swimming pools. Mericandaz has a very strong track record based on the best pools and largest hot spring spas around Kunming.

What is striking about many areas of south-west China like Liangshan is that while many of its rural inhabitants are poor, they live in a richly endowed land whose natural and tourism resources can be easily exploited to enrich its people. The path to development is training, technology and moderate investment. Some of this is available locally, but with input from business and educational partners from Australia, we can create not just a relationship with quickly realised and clearly defined mutual benefits, but also make a long term difference to the quality of life of people who live in quiet valleys close to the skies. 

*Pictured top: David Dukes in a greenhouse in Xichang, Sichuan Province.




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