Shanghai's experience with the development of Pudong puts it in a unique position to manage the new national free trade zone, said Zhao Qizheng, a former deputy mayor of Shanghai and the first director of the Pudong new zone in the early 1990s.
Zhao Qizheng, former national political adviser and former minister of the State Council Information Office Wu Chuanjing / China Daily
Zhao said the city is best suited to pilot China's free trade zone experiment and provide fresh experience for the nation's next round of reforms.
With the China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone, Shanghai will grow into a more versatile and more important national financial center, Zhao said in an interview with China Daily.
"Setting up the FTZ can be seen as the second round of Pudong development, but this time its impact will go beyond Shanghai to the entire country," said Zhao, a former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and former minister of the State Council Information Office.
Since the launch of the Pudong new zone as a major testing ground for reform, Shanghai has built up a public administration that is more knowledgeable of the global market and able to manage institutional breakthroughs and innovation, he said.
Younger colleagues who worked with him 20 years ago have now become leaders of the Shanghai FTZ, which was made a national pilot free trade zone earlier this year.
Although foreign investors seem so far to be less enthusiastic about the FTZ — official data showed less than 100 had registered with the pilot area by early December, while the number of registered domestic companies exceeded 2,000 — Zhao said such hesitation will eventually vanish.
"Foreign investors will not flock into the FTZ overnight, because they are waiting to see the results of the pioneers. But I believe the situation will be very different this time next year," Zhao said.
He said the list of things that foreign investors are not allowed to do for the time being "is not meant to be a Great Wall that people can't get across".
"The list will be progressively shortened, I'm sure. It will be annually revised. All the rational requests by investors will be solicited and given due consideration in between revisions," Zhao said.
Shanghai will consider investors' needs and make suitable adjustments for them, just as it did when pioneering China's opening-up in the 1990s.
When Pudong's development kicked off in 1990, "no one even knew where it was".
Zhao recalled the CEO of a US airline company who, looking at the barren lands across the Huangpu River from the Peace Hotel, asked where Pudong was.
"He was shocked when I told him he was looking right at it."
Today, the skyline of Pudong is easily recognizable as a symbol of China's economic miracle.
"I don't dare say the FTZ will reach the same height as the reform and opening-up, just like 23 years ago I didn't dare say what Pudong would become. I can only say that we have the same courage and determination."
China is now more connected to the global economy than in the 1990s, as it is not only a huge market for Western products but a major source of global investment as well.
"The country needs Shanghai for its economic dialogue with the world," Zhao said.
The development of the FTZ will also position Shanghai as another bright lamp along the Asian economic corridor — a ribbon of major developed cities comprising Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Shanghai's prosperity will also benefit cities like Hong Kong, rather than create fierce competition as some fear, Zhao said.
In addition to sending more cargo and flights to Hong Kong, Shanghai's role as a financial center focusing on retail finance will also complement Hong Kong's role as a global center for wholesale finance, just like Edinburgh and London, he added.
"Even if there is competition, it will be healthy for mutual development."