Home Economy Lesson for Liberia from China’s Kunshan Economic & Technological Development Zone

Lesson for Liberia from China’s Kunshan Economic & Technological Development Zone



By Fredrick P. W. Gaye, Monrovia, Liberia

 The blossoming flowers and friendly weather in this part of China are just symbols of how Kunshan serves as one of the fulcrums of China’s economic growth and development. Some Liberians may say that the country is not in the position now like China to establish special economic zones (SEZs) due to the lack of revenue backing.

However, what Liberians need is to be able to receive and make use of the technology and knowledge from transfers with a clear and implementable vision. There are prospects for the country based on its natural resources.  Furthermore, Liberia-China friendship has strengthened in recent years with serious growth in trade volume.

It is good to start somewhere. And for me, and others may agree, it is optimistic that the country will move at par with other developing countries if both the governors and governed are willing to learn from countries the like China, that had experienced similar situations some years ago.

With   the publicity in strengthening the private sector, fundamental activities such as establishing special economic zones, guided by special policies could serve as foundation for making this sector vibrant.

Special economic zones are geographically designated trade areas that are used to attract foreign investors and boost industrialization. They generally have trade laws that differ from the rest of the country and companies are offered tax incentives to set up operations. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), under its “Belt and Road” Initiative, is partnering with African countries to scale up industrialization on the continent in addition to China’s infrastructure development projects – the “Three Major Networks” of railway, road and regional aviation. I believe that China’s own experience in industrial developmen through the special economic zones offers valuable lessons.

Chinese former Ambassador to Liberia and Zambia, Zhou Yuxiao, in his article published in the CHINAFRICA Magazine, urged African countries to be ready to receive the technology and knowledge transfers. “Africa can do what China has done; China’s today can be Africa’s tomorrow,” Amb. Zhou stated.

In 2016, during our (22 African journalists) tour to Jiangsu Province in Eastern China, we visited several economic zones and other institutions.

But the flourishing features of the Kunshan Economic & Technological Development Zone (KETD), Opening up economic opportunities  for foreigners, coupled with the historical periods of its reforms explained by authorities, made it a great lesson for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in general, and Liberia in specific.

Though it   is   in Jiangsu Province,  Kunshan   is   situated in  the  Shanghai   Economic   Zone,  with  the metropolitan city Shanghai to the east and the renowned ancient city Suzhou to the west. 

Leading our tour in the different areas of the zone, official said KETD zone has a number of well- developed national-level functional zones, including a free trade zone, an opto-electronics industry park and an incubation park for Chinese overseas students. A number of other industry parks are also under development, including parks respectively dedicated to robotics, finance, creativity, advanced technology  commercialization and  food processing. These  functional zones  and  industry parks  are shaping a geographical distribution of economic activities characterized by “two axes, two belts, two cores and multiple parks”, which are increasingly facilitating city-industry integration.

By end of 2015, KETD had attracted 2,170 investment projects, with a total value of US$ 36.3 billion and registered capital of US$19.4 billion, from 47 countries and regions, including Europe, America, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

It hosts more than 10,000 domestic companies, with more than RMB 50 billion in registered capital, which   concentrate   in   five   pillar   industries:   electronics   and   information,   optoelectronic   display, precision   machinery,   equipment   manufacturing   and   light   industry.   KETD   has   been   successively honored as a national model in intellectual property-driven development and business incubation for overseas talent. It is also selected by the  provincial government as a model in innovation and IT- industry integration and scores the highest in institutional innovation among national-level EDZs in China. For consecutive years, KETD has been ranked among the top four national-level EDZs by the

Ministry of Commerce for its overall competitiveness.

The   efforts   of   the   Kunshan   government   is   to   ensure   a   stable   and   healthy   economic   and   social development, and to consequently transform the city into what some traders called one of the best places to   work, live  and do  business in  China. As an open   industrial and   commercial metropolis, Kunshan   has  remained   at   the   forefront   of  the   nation’s   reform  and   opening-up  policy   in   the   past decades. Moreover, Kunshan has adopted a series of proactive policies in an strategic plan to develop a modern service industry as part of a drive to upgrade its industrial structure.

For example, the government has streamlined examination and approval procedures to better serve investors. All the applications are required to be examined within a time limit.

This new reform is in line with a circular issued by the General Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council, saying that China will ease  the permanent  resident permit  application process  for foreigners.  “Qualification  for residence should be flexible and pragmatic,” the circular noted.

Accordingly,  KETD was first established in 1984. It was approved as a provincial-level economic development zone (EDZ) in 1991 and as a national-level EDZ in August 1992. Covering an area of 115sq km, KETD is home to a population of 635,000. Since its birth, KETD has been liberalizing its ways and   deepening   reforms,   taking   the   lead   among   its   peers   in   economic   diversification,   functional innovation and EDZ urbanization.

China introduced special economic zones in the 1970s as part of its policy to open up to international trade. Deng Xiaoping’s economic   reforms became   the   turning   point   towards   a   market-oriented economy. A series of experiments, including the establishment of special economic zones, became the driving force for growth.

This   inspired  African   countries   and   became   the   rationale   to   establish   Chinese   led-SEZs   (special economic zones) in Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, Zambia and Ethiopia in the mid-2000s. More African countries are planning to establish special economic zones. In South Africa, the Special Economic Zones Act has been passed and ten selected.

 About the author

Fredrick P. W. Gaye is IN PROFILE DAILY’s Editor for News & Editorial Services. Gaye is also a fellow of the China-Africa Press Center (CAPC) Annual Media and Cultural Exchange Fellowship 2016. He can be reached at




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