Suzhou's development zones: bastions against financial crises, drivers of growth
Suzhou’s development zones have been the driving force behind the city’s economic and urban development since the 1980s.
The zones boomed in the 1990s and have grown swiftly in the 21th century.
The first development zone dates back to 1984 when Kunshan County was ranked last of Suzhou’s six counties.
In August 1984, Kunshan issued a plan to establish a 3.75-square-kilometer industrial, commercial and residential zone in Yushan Town using the county’s own funds. The following year, a development zone command center, the predecessor of Kunshan economic and technological development zone administration committee, was formally established.
In June 1986, the State Council approved Suzhou’s plan to protect the old town and create more development zones. In July, the municipality decided to create Hedong High-tech Industrial Park to the west of the old town to promote emerging industries. At that time information technology was considered an emerging industry.
Three years later, Luzhi Town industrial area was established. The three industrial zones were the prelude to Suzhou’s booming development zones and the starting point of a new development path. The zones were soon designated as test beds for investment and economic restructuring. Since then, large development areas have appeared all around the city.
In August 1992, a national-level economic and technological development zone was approved covering an area of 20 square kilometers in Kunshan.
In October, the State Council approved plans for Zhangjiagang bonded zone, which became the first inland river port free trade zone in China. Suzhou Xukou resort was also established with a planned area of 11.2 square kilometers. In June 1993, the center was renamed Suzhou Taihu Lake National Tourism Resort.
From November 1993 to October 1995, Jiangsu approved development zones at Changshu, Kunshan tourist resort, Liujiagang Port, Taicang, Fenhu tourism resort, Wujiang, Wuxian, Zhangjiagang and Hushuguan.
In the 1990s, construction of Suzhou New District and the China–Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park was in the spotlight.
In October 1990, Suzhou decided to shift the focus west of the canal and in March 1991, construction of Hexi New District began. By December 1991, infrastructure was in place in the first phase of one square kilometer area, and 24 projects had been signed up with a total US$87 million investment.
In November of the same year, the State Science and Technology Commission approved Suzhou New District as a tech industry development zone. In April 1993, Hexi New District was renamed Suzhou New District.
The Suzhou Industrial Park was born on February 26, 1994 when then vice premier Li Lanqing and Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew signed an agreement on joint development of the industrial park. Construction began on May 12, 1994.
By the end of 1994, 4.1 billion yuan (US$594 million) had been spent on infrastructure in the development zones in Suzhou, which were home to more than 900 foreign-funded enterprises. Foreign capital of US$2.03 billion had been received. By 1995 Suzhou had five national and 10 provincial development zones.
In 1995 and 1996, many zones revised their plans to expand and made efforts to improve services. Kunshan Economic and Technological Development Zone established a service center for foreign enterprises in September 1996 to provide one-stop services in customs, environmental protection, taxation and so on.
A new range of zone functions soon emerged.
In 1997, Suzhou New District set up high-tech entrepreneurship centers, business incubators and privately owned science and technology parks.
The city began to integrate resources and merge zones and in August 2002, Huqiu District was merged into Suzhou New District.
After more than 10 years, the zones have become a major bastion against the challenges of financial crises and the main driver of local economic growth.
During the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period, the total industrial output of Suzhou’s development zones totaled 4.5 trillion yuan, up 224 percent from the previous five years.
The development of these development zones is part of the history of reform and opening-up and, in line with changing times, they will now shift their emphasis to sustainable development and innovation.