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ASEAN, Brunei Darussalam

Five Things BSB can learn from Shanghai


Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 08.28.56
(Me in Shanghai, China in 2014)

Shanghai is the largest Chinese city by population in the world. It is a modern metropolitan city located off the south edge of the mouth of the Yangtze in the middle portion of the Chinese coast. I have the fortunate opportunity to visit the city for a whole month during my internship there right after university graduation. Through the experience I jotted down five key observations based on Shanghai’s development which Brunei’s BSB (Bandar Seri Begawan) could emulate in its quest to realise Vision 2035. Why? The city itself could serve as a model for any city which aims to achieve something good. It is so inspiring that what amounted to a war-torn city right after the end of World War 2 close to sixty years ago has now become the one of largest city in Asia and described as the “showpiece” of the booming economy of mainland China

What can be learned from Shanghai which we can implement back in BSB? Firstly, it is the importance of proper city and urban planning. As national development intensifies so too the need to provide proper housing, commercial, and office space to accommodate the city’s growth. Shanghai mayors did this well with the introduction of fast growth policies that not only accommodated those growth but went far and beyond the requirements that eventually made Shanghai one of the most vibrant capitals of China. The key point here is they have proper city and urban planning. If Brunei wishes to succeed, it too has to produce a strong and pragmatic plan to make its city BSB and districts to grow and prosper well.

Secondly, the existence of a strong and robust transportation system is essential for a good city to accommodate expansion. Shanghai learned this well and saw the need to take care of the system in such a way it would minimize traffic. Even though the traffic in Shanghai is quite unbelievable – millions of cars pass the roads of the city every day making traffic almost horrific at peak hours – I had another effective alternative, namely the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), considered the longest in the world. Where I interned, it took me forty-five minutes to go by Taxi and twenty minutes by MRT. So it was easy and convenient for me to go using the MRT. With the existence of a strong transportation system, it has enabled the city to grow well despite the hundreds of thousands of people moving into the city annually due to migration.

In terms of commerce, Shanghai is no stranger to the idea. For thousands of years the place has become a focal point for trade for China. It is true then it is true now. With the introduction and intensification of modern logistics and containerization, Chinese-made products from the Mainland are bound to flow through the ports to be exported to different parts of the world. How Shanghai would benefit from this is through becoming a focus hub to home the thousands if not millions of businesses which produce, market, and transact these goods. Becoming a center of commerce could only be viable if the area is by the sea, which Shanghai happens to be. What Brunei can learn from this is to emulate the Shanghai model on becoming a center of commerce itself utilizing the Brunei Bay as the logistical center hub. Was Brunei not a focal point of regional trade and commerce in the 14th century during its Golden Age? What Brunei can learn from Shanghai on this third observation is to place a huge focus on logistics and to have the city aspire to become “one of the centres of commerce for Borneo”.

The fourth observation is Shanghai’s move to place market economic reforms in place. Market economic reforms are those policies in place which serves to promote business growth and to produce an environment conducive to the development and expansion of enterprise. How did Shanghai grow so well in a short period of time is their understanding of the existence of Small Medium Enterprise in the economy as well as MNEs. The former would primarily focus on the production of tax revenues and job creation to the economy, while the latter serve to promote technological and human capital exchange and development. The Chinese leaders, or in particular President Xi Xinping, a former mayor of Shanghai, placed and pushed heavily for these reforms. In effect he was able to elevate SME creation and development, as well as attract FDIs and cross-economic exchanges which benefited greatly Shanghai. Although the key economic ideas will take a whole book to write about, the category of ‘market economics’ is something which Bruneian leaders and policy-makers should read and research about.

The final observation is how important it is to focus on the development of human capital through education. According to PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), Shanghai students scored the highest in math, science, and reading tests, beating the likes of Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It is not so much about accident that led to these high test scores, but of the competitive educational system. Unlike the situation in other emerging economies, if you are unemployed in Shanghai you will be having a hard time. This has driven a lot of them to not take things for granted and in effect has put into them that important characteristics to succeed. Not saying that all do succeed, but it does pressurize the general Shanghainese to work hard in school or in university. But that does not mean people who could not afford university are excluded. Far from it. Those who could not complete university will more likely end up in business and those unemployed would eventually establish their startups or businesses. And the competitve environment drive these individuals forward to succeed.

As Brunei progresses forward, I truly believe in the advise given by Sultan Bolkiah the 5th. His advise echoed to us to this day. He said that Bruneians should take ideas from other countries and to implement it back to the country for the benefit of the nation. This is why I am writing this article just so I can share the five ideas based on Shanghai’s model which can be of benefit in the development of the nation’s city BSB.

*This piece is written last year which I never got the chance to publish until now. Hope you enjoyed it! If you like my work, please do subscribe to the website to get new updates of new articles. The button is just on the right hand side of the blog. Thank you!

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Oh, my friends and I are launching Brunei’s economics club which goes by around the same name and which I invite you all to join in! Check out the Brunei Young Economist Club and do fill in the form here. It is an informal place where we can meet up and discuss issues which is important to Brunei and to simply promote the subject amongst the youngsters in the country. Hope you can join in!

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