It’s 22 years since I was last in Kunming (on my way to Dali – which now, of course, has an airport). A lot has changed…and a lot of the changes are relevant to today’s China story – urban development, consumption, leisure, an entrepreneurial private sector, and concern over the environment.
The City of Eternal Spring has become a city of constant construction. Cleared land, construction sites and new buildings are everywhere. No doubt this urban boom helped the city achieve its 14.1% growth in 2012. Perhaps more amazing is that the air is still clear, and Dianchi Lake is, we are told, getting cleaner.
Clear too is the fact that this is a city with big plans, aiming to double GDP and incomes by 2017. A drive around Chenggong District, which is huge, gives an idea of the scale of development. This picture is taken from the new Howard Johnson hotel (and near a not-yet-open metro station), but similar scenes can be found for miles.
Downtown has a lot of construction too, including a big development by Red Star Macalline – who you might know as a major furniture retailer, but which is now also a developer.
These apartments were flying out of the door, mainly to people in their 30s-50s buying their first or second home. Aspirational? The top-end duplex, comes with a wine cellar, as well as mahjong and yoga rooms!
The sights (Stone Forest and West Hill) are a big draw for the city, but the main event in April was the China Entrepreneur Club’s  Green Companies Summit  – and the super-celebrity entrepreneurs themselves – among them Liu Chuanzhi (Legend), Jack Ma (Alibaba), Wang Shi (Vanke), Wang Jianlin (Wanda), Charles Chao (Sina), Guo Guangchang (Fosun), and Michael Yu (New Oriental).
There was obviously a focus on sustainable issues, but there also some strong voices calling for more SME and private sector development:
• Liu Chuanzhi (or Legend / Lenovo fame) noted the need reform from the top, for rule of law, and equality before the law.
• XU Xiaonian (CEIBS) added that reform needs institutional change, not just efficiency gains, and referenced Deng Xiaoping, saying “those who do not reform should get off the stage!”
• Long Yongtu (the former WTO negotiator) aligned with a current theme when he said that “we have a lot to learn about the Chinese Dream” from entrepreneurs”, highlighting the importance to the economy of thriving private sector and SME companies.
He also called on the government to treat all companies equally, no matter what the ownership structure, including private and foreign, and instead to focus on issues such contributions from employment, tax & social responsibility. (A important point given the recent attacks on Apple http://www.chinabusinessservices.com/consumer-brand-discrimination-crisis/).
• Ronald Coase (economist and co-author of How China Became Capitalist, appearing via video) left us with the double entendre of the day – to loud applause: “I hope Beijing can be as clean as Kunming…”
Almost as interesting as the conference was the venue, the aqua, one-and-a-half hours from downtown, set in agricultural, rural Yunnan, surrounded by fields.
The Aqua 
The development (by CITIC and Shining Star Group), partially finished and in soft-launch mode, includes a Ramada hotel, a conference centre, golf and fishing clubs, sports and equestrian centres, shops, a wetland park, orchards, and rows and rows holiday homes. Oddly there is also a castle, and at least a couple of windmills…
A lot of money (RMB3.5 billion according to one account) has been invested, and that some serious people think that domestic tourism needs a high-end rural retreat. It will be interesting to see how it works out. And whether urban Kunming will swallow it up before it is finished!
It is no wonder cities like Kunming are getting more attention from international businesses – just don’t wait 22 years before your next visit!
Construction Worker – Keeping an eye on developments…
And its not just Kunming that is seeing strong growth – Yunnan Province as a whole managed 12.6% on Q1 :
But, as the latest news shows, not everything in Kunming / Yunnan is green and good. There have been protests in Kunming by residents who want to block a chemical plant (http://bit.ly/105JAqv  – similar demonstations have been seen elsewhere, including Chengdu http://bloom.bg/18LnDhr ). Also in the news is the Nu river in Yunnan, where the New York Times reports that “The Chinese government stunned environmentalists this year by reviving plans to build a series of hydropower dams” (http://nyti.ms/12atGtL ). Power for the city, or power to the people? Sustainable development and the environment continue to be critical issues.
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