The mention of China's opening up tends to conjure up images of Shenzhen or Shanghai. These coastal cities were among the first to open their doors to the outside world and remain torchbearers of the drive. Chongqing in the west may be no match for them. Nevertheless, the municipality deserves attention because of the progress it has achieved and the initiative it has taken to blaze a trail based on its comparative advantages.
China adopted the reform and opening-up policy in 1978, bidding farewell to the political dogmatism that had shackled its economy, and shifted the focus to economic development. The program unfolded in an incremental way from the coast to the interior.
Chongqing was designated a foreign investment destination in 1983 when it was part of Sichuan Province. In 1997, it came under the jurisdiction of the Central Government, becoming the only centrally administered municipality in west China. With these moves, its opening up accelerated. By 2017, its foreign trade volume amounted to $66.6 billion, more than 220 times that in 1985. Paid-in foreign investment exceeded $10 billion, a 400-fold increase.
Today, Chongqing is a bustling metropolis that defies the stereotypes often associated with west China, with high-rise buildings dotting its skyline and the breathtaking sights by the Yangtze attracting legions of tourists.
The transformation is due in large part to the national policy. But it is also contingent on local conditions. Notably, given its strategic location, Chongqing has developed an intricate network of transportation corridors connecting it with Southeast Asia, Europe and beyond, turning itself into an international logistics hub.
It is incorrect to assume that the movers and shakers of reform and opening up are all from the east. Western cities have also contributed their wisdom. Chongqing is home to the very first China-Europe block train. Many other cities have followed in its footsteps, making the intercontinental railway cargo service a symbol of enhanced connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative. As it develops an inland free trade zone (FTZ), one of China's 12 pilot FTZs, Chongqing continues to make innovations that may have national and, potentially, international implications.
From a closed economy to one that champions free trade and globalization, China has traveled a long way in the past 40 years. Chongqing's development epitomizes the historic changes that have taken place in the country over the decades. China is now poised to open even wider, with commitments to increase imports and foster a world-class business environment. Moving forward, this pivotal policy will benefit not only the Chinese but also all those who will go with the tide.