A few weeks ago I visited Yibin City in central Sichuan. Maybe you are asking yourself, why? I should quickly say that it wasn't just to sample Yibin's famous Wuliangye liquor, although I confess that I did try a little bit. And it also wasn’t to eat Yibin Ranmian, although I tasted that also.
Instead, I visit cities like Yibin so that I can provide more accurate information to New Zealand business and the New Zealand Government about the local situation and opportunities right across the Southwest China region. My Consulate was established because New Zealand saw the strong potential of Southwest China as a rapidly developing region of China, and realised we should have a permanent presence here as a core part of our bilateral relationship. Now we are able to do a ‘deep dive’ into the provincial economies here, to discover hidden areas where new collaboration and engagement with New Zealand are possible.
After almost two years in Chengdu I feel I know my 'second hometown’ much better than before. Chengdu is capturing a lot of attention back in New Zealand right now, because of its reputation as a rapidly developing city that is also very liveable, with an advanced IT and innovation sector, expanding air links and increasing retail spending power. More New Zealand companies have started to visit Chengdu this year. And companies like ANZ Bank, Fonterra (dairy), Mainfreight (logistics) and New Zealand Milk Bar now have a presence here.
But I also know that I really can't say I know or understand Southwest China if I only stay in Chengdu. Visits to a city like Yibin – or Mianyang, Zigong, Leshan, Panzhihua and Xichang (and Chongqing, Kunming and Guiyang), which I have also visited in the last year – help me to paint a more accurate picture of the province to New Zealanders, so that we can identify areas of supply and demand for mutual benefit.
Yibin is Sichuan's fourth largest city economy, with a population larger than New Zealand's, so it is a significant potential partner. During my visit I was fully briefed on local economic development by Mayor Du Ziping. There are a range of sectors from horticulture and animal husbandry to aviation and machinery production which have current or potential future New Zealand links.
Apart from official meetings I also visited Yibin's largest supermarket chain, where I discovered that there are already some quality New Zealand products on the market but scope to introduce a lot more (for example honey, wine, seafood, meat and ice-cream). This is the kind of useful concrete information that I can send back to my country, which I can only uncover through a visit.
And of course I did visit Wuliangye, where I discussed our previous business projects as well as potential areas for cooperation in future(including industries outside Wuliangye's flagship baijiu business). Very bravely I even presented company leaders with a bottle of New Zealand's only Chinese baijiu liquor, Taizi, which is distilled in my ‘first hometown’ Christchurch. But we didn't open it, so I don’t yet know if it met the very high local standards…
My message back to New Zealand after this visit will be: You may not be familiar with Yibin, or other smaller cities in Sichuan outside Chengdu. But New Zealand needs to know about them and to keep updated on developments there, because today's Tier 3 and 4 cities are tomorrow's Tier 1 and 2 cities, and through regular visits and engagement New Zealand will be better placed to walk side by side with cities like Yibin in future.
I don't know which city I will visit next in Sichuan, but I am already looking forward to it!
By Alistair Crozier, New Zealand Consul-General, Chengdu
This article was first published by the Chengdu Consulate-General Wechat account ID: nzconsulatechengdu
Sep 1, 2016