Modern Prosperity in an Ancient Town
   2011-10-24 10:27:05      Web Editor: Liu

Wang Weidong, an officer of Manzhouli Customs, says the city has recovered from the impacts of the global economic crisis during an interview on October 18, 2011. [Photo:]

by Zhang Zhang

Sitting on the border between China and Russia, Manzhouli has depended on international trade since ancient times.

Some believe business here can be traced back to the middle Qing Dynasty when Chinese and Russian merchants bartered over tea and silverware. At that time the town was a part of Russia named Manchzhuriya.

The city's modern history began in the early 20th century as the China Far East Railway was completed in 1901 linking China's northeast area with Siberia and the Russian Far East. The town also got the current name Manzhouli from that time on.

After being designated as a trading center in 1905 by the Republic of China government, the local economy blossomed. More than a century of development has seen Manzhouli grow into China's largest land port entry.

However, Manzhouli Customs officer, Wang Weizhong, says the town is gradually recovering after a tough period during the global economic crisis.

"The Manzhouli Customs supervised $9.81 billion worth of imports and exports last year, compared with $6.485 billion in 2009. The increase shows the city's recovered from the economic crisis smoothly."

Wang said that timber and minerals are now the biggest imports from Russia. China's main exports the other way include fruit, vegetables and light industry products.

With a new logistics zone expected to be put into operation in coming years, the city's annual cargo handling capacity is to exceed the current figure of 30 million tons per year.

As the foreign trade booms, Manzhouli attracts an increasing number of tourists from both home and abroad.

According to the local tourism bureau, over two and a half million tourists visited the city in the first seven months of 2011, up more than five percent compared to the same period last year. The number of foreign tourists during the same time this year was over six hundred thousand.

As foreigners swarm in, mostly from Russia, the city has also made remarkable headway in improving its urban infrastructure and commercial services.

Yao Xin came to the city in 2003 and now works as the general manager of Manzhouli Shopping Center, the largest shopping mall in the city. He is deeply impressed with the city's rapid progress.

"When I arrived here, the city looked tidy but dull. But now, most streets have been renovated in the European style, while more and more high-rise buildings have also been erected."

The city's rapid development not only makes it attractive to foreigners, but also benefits local enterprises.

Yu Yingrui is the deputy director of Friendship Group Corp., a regional influential enterprise that has attracted a large group of patrons from Russia.

"Our company has been known to residents within a radius of 1,000 kilometers of Manzhouli. Some of our customers come from as far away as Azerbajian and Armenia. Our brand is popular among Russian visitors and our cooperation with Russian partners is running well."

Yu's enterprise opened its first department store in Manzhouli on August 8, 1999. At that time they rented a space covering 5000 square meters. Now the company owns three chain stores with the main one covering 20,000 square meters.

They have also entered the tourism, catering and hotel industries, with a turnover exceeding 300 million yuan ($47 million) compared to around 10 million yuan a decade ago.

Yu said the city's boom is down to its growth strategy rather than its unique geographic position.

"The outward-oriented city has made every effort to meet the demands of Russian and Mongolian merchants. It offers a rich variety of domestic products made in inner lands such as Guangzhou and Harbin and develops its industries in line with the requirements of foreign trade, which are particularly favorable to small and medium-sized foreign clients."

He also supports the government's efforts to standardize the market and rein in the "grey customs clearance," which he says has boosted legitimate enterprises like his company.

Yu believes the city's prosperity can only be sustained by a booming internal trade. So he hopes the local authorities can adopt more international standards to boost trade.

That now seems likely to happen because the city has recently been selected for a national program to further open up the economy.

Now, the company is targeting the overseas market with related market analysis almost completed.
Yu said he's already contacted local governments of Chita, Irkutsk, and Ulan-Ude in Russia and hopes to start doing business with them soon.

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