Letter from China: "Tiger mother" and roaring innovation -- Hefei's pursuit of new quality productive forces-Xinhua

Letter from China: "Tiger mother" and roaring innovation -- Hefei's pursuit of new quality productive forces

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-03-31 19:46:15

by Xinhua writer Zheng Xin

HEFEI, March 31 (Xinhua) -- In the final days of March, I found myself amid a throng of journalists, both local and international, in the heart of east China's Anhui Province. We had gathered for a close look at the buzzphrase that's recently been setting the tone for China's economic conversations -- new quality productive forces.

Our destination was the city of Hefei. It was an apt choice, given Hefei's goal, set in February 2024, to become a national focal city for new productivity.

Our whirlwind tour was organized by the information offices of the State Council and the Anhui provincial government. The turnout of foreign media was a pleasant surprise for the organizers, a clear indication of the level of global interest in unraveling the secrets behind the buzzphrase.

Our itinerary was packed with visits to cutting-edge new energy companies like Sungrow Power and Gotion Hi-tech, the AI powerhouse iFlytek, and EHang, a pioneer in electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. A recurring question was asked -- "What part does the government play in your success story?"

The subtext was rather evident with some of our foreign colleagues believing that the meteoric rise of Chinese companies was fueled by government handouts, bordering on giving such firms an unfair competitive advantage. However, the executives we spoke to told us a different tale. "We're a non-state-owned company, and our R&D is fueled by our own revenue," they clarified, while acknowledging that industrial policies are a global phenomenon.

But let us not discount the Hefei government's role in this narrative. Their influence is as undeniable as it is inspiring. On March 26, the province kicked off public consultation concerning a regulation aimed at bolstering enterprise technology transformation -- a move that's being hailed as a legislative milestone for new quality productive forces.

This isn't the first time the Hefei local government has made waves. Its "double zero" initiative, which mandates R&D activities or institutions in all sizable manufacturing firms, piqued the curiosity of our foreign colleagues. They were keen to know how Hefei managed to transform over 2,000 enterprises that were raking in good money but at the same time not investing enough in R&D.

Officials shared stories of hands-on engagement, aimed at addressing the challenges faced by such companies. Efforts were then made to bridge gaps, tapping into a rich vein of scientific and research resources via universities and other institutions. The underlying message became very clear -- innovation isn't just accessible, it's everywhere.

As an American journalist said to a Singaporean colleague, "The government is like a 'tiger mother,' nagging these companies to do their homework." The joke sparked laughter, but it also spoke volumes about the city's relentless pursuit of innovation.

The impressive results of these efforts are evident. With over 19,000 high-tech enterprises, featuring growth of 28 percent in 2023, and an expanding list of sci-tech listings and unicorns, Anhui is punching well above its weight. The companies we encountered there all bore the hallmark of ever-advancing ingenuity, which is seen as "the recipe of enduring business success."

Volkswagen Anhui's executives, for instance, marveled at "China speed." Visiting reporters learned that the carmaking giant had planted their R&D flag firmly in Hefei, convinced that this is where innovation will continue to flourish. A bold sign at their premises captured the spirit of the endeavor: "Pioneering the new Volkswagen in China."

My first visit to Hefei turned out to be an exhilarating blend of early starts and jam-packed days. Viewed from the 16th-floor window of my hotel room, the vibrant hues of spring were a morning ritual. Evenings brought lakeside strolls with locals, a snapshot of community life that's both heartwarming and inspiring.

Mauro Ramos Pintos, a video reporter from Brazil's TVT and a new friend I made, was impressed by the local technology use, such as tapping geothermal energy sources located 120 meters under the ground to slash the cost of air conditioning. He also told me that his earlier experiences of infrastructure developed in remote areas of southwest China's Guizhou Province had left a deep impression on him.

He is especially interested in how new quality productive forces can improve people's welfare and help achieve common prosperity and other similar goals. For him, the true success of a policy is reflected by the well-being it creates for the people.

Our final stop on the three-day exploration of Hefei was Luogang Park, where we were given a firsthand look at EHang's drone taxi, the world's first unmanned eVTOL aircraft to earn an airworthiness certificate. The park, it seems, was once an airport, but now serves as home to the likes of a garden expo and a Sci-Tech Innovation CBD.

The park where we saw the drone in action also provided other views. I saw traditional Hui-style architecture serving as photo spots, families relaxing on the grass, seniors playing cards in the shade, and children exploring aviation on a field trip.

As I boarded the high-speed train to leave Hefei, I found myself reflecting on a city brimming with promise. The bustling station, a symbol of a city thriving on infusions of talent and ambition, served as an accurate reflection of Hefei's magnetic appeal. With land premium and property preservation rates among the nation's highest, the city's commitment to innovation is evident in its healthy economy and sound urban development.