China explores new paths to prosperity

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Indeed, the push to make China a manufacturing center for such high-value goods as autos and airplanes is far more visible today than the government’s efforts to spur on the Chinese consumer.

Ningbo, Shenzhen and Shanghai, major ports that became platforms for manufacturing and exporting all manner of lower-end consumer goods to the rest of the world in the past decade, are gearing up for a generation of high-tech export goods identified by China’s leaders.

Ningbo, for example, an ancient port city that was an originating point for the fabled Silk Road, has ambitious plans to expand its massive port facilities by 30 percent. The city already is the world’s fourth-largest port in terms of tonnage.

On the outskirts of the city, the government is building towering high-rises to house workers not yet hired for planned manufacturing plants, while it invests in roads, sewers and other infrastructure needed to attract high-tech manufacturers from the U.S. and elsewhere to turn those plans into reality.

With the completion in 2008 of the world’s longest ocean-spanning bridge connecting Ningbo to Shanghai, city leaders talk excitedly about their hopes that the region will become the world’s sixth major international metropolis, putting it in the same class with Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and Chicago.

Some companies in Ningbo’s new high-tech zone are aiming to sell their wares in the growing Chinese domestic market, including Geely, a leading Chinese automaker, and Fotile, a maker of state-of-the-art kitchen appliances designed for the Asian market.

China in recent years overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest auto market with 18 million units sold annually, and nearly every major automaker has established factories here to tap into that market.

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