31 July - 6 Aug 2015 #769

Emerging market

There is a lot Kathmandu can learn from up-and-coming Weifang in China
Ayesha Shakya

Photo: China Daily

Even before the April 25 earthquake left Nepal’s tourism sector in shambles, the total number of tourists visiting was already stagnant. Visitor numbers were decreasing since 2011 and the average duration of stay was getting shorter. Amidst the gloom, there was one demographic of people who had been arriving in Nepal in hordes: the Chinese.

This shift in China’s position as the world’s largest economy is not just evident in Nepal but across the globe. Armed with enormous spending power, China’s middle class is expanding beyond its first tier cities, which refer to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen or the “Big 4” to smaller, lesser known cities. Weifang, a prefecture-level city in Shandong province, is an example of that.

Situated in close proximity to coastal cities in a province which boasts the third highest GDP in the country, Weifang owes its expansion to rapid industrial development and technological innovation. The city’s high-tech industrial development zone, which ranks 25 out of 130, acts as a key production base for various sectors such as the automobile industry, information technology and 3D printing technology and all together had a combined industrial output value of 80.76 billion yuan in 2014. Apart from being a commercial success, these high-tech zones provide employment opportunities, preventing locals from migrating to bigger cities in search of jobs. While Beijing may still be known as China’s ‘Silicon Valley’, Weifang is definitely giving the capital a run for its money.

However, along with the innovation, Weifang still values its past and has a deep-seeded respect for its roots. Known as the ‘kite capital of the world’, stringed kites are an essential part of the culture, made more apparent by the many kite museums and kite workshops. Entire households from certain communities worked at kite workshops to produce high- quality kites to be supplied within China and to the rest of the world. The people of Weifang are proud of their heritage and celebrate it each year on April during the International Kite Festival. Apart from that, the government pays street artists to perform folk songs, dances and rituals at Qingzhou so that old customs are not easily forgotten.

Photo: Ayesha Shakya

As a landlocked prefecture-level city, Weifang does share a few similarities with Nepal. As a developing country with a rich past, Nepal needs to learn to innovate and look to the future while not letting go of its roots. For example, Kathmandu could also host kite-fighting festivals like the one in Nagarkot at Dasain, but perhaps in a bigger and more international way. By focusing on the technology and manufacturing, Weifang paved the way for more development and firmly put the city in the industrial map.

Although no tech hub, Kathmandu and other cities in Nepal can follow in a similar path and capitalise in the increasing number of tech startups here. Home-grown talent needs to be nurtured and the local economy needs to be rejuvenated.

Similar to how Weifang emphasises its traditional handicrafts and culture, Nepal too has many products that stand out globally. They just need to be refined and marketed properly. A heavy reliance on imports should be reduced and the focus needs to be narrowed down to local products.

Read also:

The Chinese are coming, Claire Li Yingxue

Tourism flatlines, Chinese are up

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