POSTSCRIPT / October 29, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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New 'Golden Triangle': Fujian, Taiwan, Manila

XIAMEN, Fujian — This beautiful, bustling city, sometimes referred to as Amoy, looks out to the Formosa Strait to the east, making it a natural neighbor for Manila which is itself home to a large Chinese population.

This geographical fact, plus the well-known industry and enterprise of its people, may explain why Fujian province has been the origin of many of the most successful Chinese businessmen in the Philippines.

Scratch Manila’s taipans, for instance Lucio Tan and Henry Sy, and you will expose many a boy-who-made-good tracing their roots to a Fujian hometown.

In fact, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, proudly recalls to his hosts here in Fujian — where he and his wife President Gloria are on an official five-day visit — that his family on his mother’s side (Tuazon) has its Son Tua roots here.

Even Taiwan, despite its family feud with Beijing, has more than 70 percent of its population claiming to have come from Fujian some 180 kilometers across the sea.

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GOLDEN TRIANGLE: In her discussions here with business groups, President Arroyo referred to the Fujian-Taiwan-Manila connection as a “Golden Triangle” because of the exciting economic possibilities that cooperation could open up.

One is tempted to wonder if this intercourse would not get entangled in a “love triangle” considering the quarrel between Beijing and Taipei over questions related to sovereignty. But the figures indicate a positive trade picture.

Despite their differences, Taiwan continues to be one of the most active trading partners of mainland China. Direct shipping with Taiwan has been allowed by the central government since 1997. Exchange of visitors (including businessmen and investors) has been brisk.

Btw, an indication of the importance that Manila places on this neighbor in Fujian is that it maintains a consulate general in Xiamen.

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TARGET-DRIVEN: The fruits of its target-driven growth in the last two decades are visible everywhere, specially in the shops (an informal indicator of the state of the economy) and the activity at the long and deep harbor linked inward by the Jiulong river and outward via the China sea.

Xiamen ’s gross domestic product since 1980 has grown at a thumping 18 percent — compared to our… never mind. Having proved its competence, the municipality enjoys independent status in state economic planning.

Manila-based Chinese businessmen in the President’s party point to the natural 60-kilometer-plus coastline whose in-out cargo traffic makes Manila’s South Harbor look small-time.

The port has more than 80 berths of big, medium or small tonnage, including 16 deep-water berths, of which six operate containers of over 10,000 tonnages. Outside the port area is a long stretch of public beach that puts Manila’s garish Boardwalk to shame.

Establishment of the Xiamen Special Economic Zone has opened this location to foreign direct investment and resulted in factories, jobs and export opportunities for local companies and multi-national corporations.

Figures show that much of investment capital flowing to Xiamen (population: 2.17 million) come from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Xiamen is not only one of China’s top 10 ports. It is also one of its cleanest. A Filipino visitor wishes Metro Manila could get rid of its bumpy-lumpy roads, ugly billboards and shanties, and plant more trees and force order into everyday traffic.

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NO PAIN, NO GAIN: Lucio Tan, one of Fujian’s favorite sons, is with the business delegation accompanying the presidential party.

He is pushing Manila-Fujian linkages in agriculture and education, two areas in Philippine development that he has been quietly pushing and to which he has poured millions.

It is probably with a sense of gratitude that Tan is doing this, having come with unbounded success from modest beginnings in Fujian, from two failed ventures and a small chemical trading firm.

He has a chemical engineering degree (which he has put to good use in some of his endeavors) from the Far Eastern University and a PhD in commerce from the University of Santo Tomas.

The eldest of Chua King Ha and the late Tan Yan Kee, he was born on July 17, 1934. He was barely four years old when his family joined the Chinese diaspora to escape the invading Japanese Imperial Army.

At that tender age, he was exposed to the hardship of war time. Many times his associates would catch him saying now, “There will be no construction, and thus no gain, without destruction.”

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PHILANTHROPY: Tan owns, among other major businesses, Philippine Airlines on whose chartered Airbus-330 flight the presidential party flew into China last Friday.

He shares the fruits of his enterprise. Through the Tan Yan Kee Foundation that he established in 1986 in honor of his father, he has donated hundreds of millions of pesos for constructing school buildings, hospitals, churches as well as houses for the homeless.

Tan has funded health and social welfare projects, calamity assistance, livelihood programs, environment protection, research, sports development and anti-drug campaigns.

He also set up the Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education, a non-profit organization serving as government’s partner in upgrading the quality of education by improving the teaching skills of English, Science and Mathematics teachers.

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SM INVADES CHINA: The presence here of Henry Sy is palpable in his trade mark malls — the SM. So far, this marketing genius has opened three malls in China, the precursors of a dozen more:

  1. The first SM mall is located in Crossroad West, Xiamen. Its gross floor area is 120,000 square meters. It was opened on 2003.
  2. The second SM was opened in November last year in Jinjiang, also here in Fujian. It has a gross floor area of 170,000 sq. m., 60 percent of which is leased from the government.
  3. The third was opened just last Oct. 20, this time in Cheng Du, Schezuan province. Its gross floor area is also 170,000 sq. m. Its tenants include such retail giants as Wal-Mart and Taiwan-based Laiya department store.

With her delegation in tow, President Arroyo visited the SM mall in Jinjiang yesterday and had coffee. The mall looks and feels like the SMs we have in Metro Manila, with the “You’ve got it all” jingle playing on the public address system while we were there.

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RETAIL KING: Acknowledged as the Philippines’ “Retail King,” Sy has come a long way from his modest shoe store in Quiapo. He opened in the 1960s another Shoe Mart (SM) beside the Ideal theater on Rizal Ave. featuring an escalator, at that time an innovation.

His latest mall, the mammoth SM Mall of Asia sprawled on the reclaimed bay area in Pasay City, is reputedly the third biggest in the world. It is a must-see for everybody — shopper or not. Even balikbayans make sure it is in their itinerary.

Sy is also an alumnus of Far Eastern University, where he earned an Associate of Arts degree in Commercial Studies in 1950.

Last year, Forbes magazine listed the taipan as the second wealthiest man in the Philippines and 355 th in the world. His assets have been reported to total some $5 billion.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 29, 2006)

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