Jiangmen, a Greater Bay Area laggard, counts casino tycoon, ex-NBA star and Hong Kong movie icons as investors, benefactors

By Lam Ka-sing kasing.lam@scmp.com / https://www.scmp.com/business/article/3096198/jiangmen-greater-bay-area-laggard-counts-casino-tycoon-ex-nba-star-and?utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=contentexchange&utm_source=EdgeProp&utm_content=3096198 | August 13, 2020 3:49 PM SGT
Jiangmen ranks as the second poorest city in the Greater Bay Area. Yet, it is rich in its own way, counting a casino tycoon, an ex-NBA star, the king of oyster sauce, and a host of Hong Kong's film stars among its famous natives and benefactors.
The city of 4.6 million people in the southernmost part of Guangdong province - about two to three hours from Hong Kong by train or ferry - thrives with millions of natives overseas, including tycoon Lui Che-woo of casino operator Galaxy Entertainment and developer K Wah International, among its biggest cheerleaders.
They have invested about US$30 billion to help lift the city's lightweight economy as at 2018, according to local government statistics, while donations to its causes amounted to HK$7.71 billion (US$995 million).
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The Jiangmen Star Park, developed in November 2010 over 14,000 square metres at a cost of 10 million yuan (US$1.4 million), is the city's import of the Hollywood Star Walk to spur domestic tourism, paying tribute to a host of Hong Kong celebrities with family ties to the city.
More than 120 of such movie icons have had their hand prints and statues built there, including Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Chow Yun-fat, Donnie Yen and Canto-pop singers Alan Tam and Gillian Chung.
Despite its geographic size of 9,504 sq km or about eight times larger than Hong Kong, Jiangmen pales in comparison with 10 other bay area peers on many yardsticks.
The size of the economy was about US$45.6 billion in 2019, or just under 12 per cent of top-ranked Shenzhen's, according to official statistics. On per capita basis, it stood at second last with a US$9,885 score, just ahead of Zhaoqing. Macau is the richest at US$79,977.
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Lui, Hong Kong's fifth richest businessman with a US$14.6 billion fortune, was born in the city in 1929 and settled down in Hong Kong at the age of five with his family, according to a website dedicated to the Lui Che-woo Prize that promotes global civilisation.
Lui Che-woo, chairman and founder of Galaxy Entertainment Group. Photo: Bloomberg alt=Lui Che-woo, chairman and founder of Galaxy Entertainment Group. Photo: Bloomberg
The tycoon has led the collaboration of local and overseas natives to promote the building and development of Jiangmen's Wuyi University, following his appointment as the first chairman of the board in 2008.
"I hope to do my best to facilitate the school development by setting up scholarships," said Lui, who has been made an honorary citizen of the city. He also donated for Jiangmen Wuyi Museum of Overseas Chinese and a local school named after his father.
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Others have also joined his cause, including Lee Quo-wei, the late former chairman of Hang Seng Bank and Esther Yewpick Lee, wife of the late Richard Charles Lee of Hysan Development. They had raised HK$70 million for Wuyi University Education Fund Foundation (Hong Kong).
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam tours the Lee Kum Kee production base in Xinhui, Jiangmen in May 2019. Photo: Handout alt=Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam tours the Lee Kum Kee production base in Xinhui, Jiangmen in May 2019. Photo: Handout
Lee Kum Kee, considered the king of oyster sauce, has some plants in Jiangmen too. The family of Lee Man-tat, chairman of the family-owned enterprise, hails from the city. In February, the firm donated 2 million yuan to a local hospital, and 2,360 boxes of vinegar and 14,000 sauce packs to medical professionals in March during the height of the pandemic.
Basketball star Yi Jianlian, who plays for Guangdong Southern Tigers and last week won the Most Valuable Player accolade for the fifth time, was also born in Jiangmen. In the NBA, Yi spent several seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.
Yi Jianlian holds the ball during the Basketball World Cup game against Ivory Coast in Beijing in August 2019. Photo: AFP alt=Yi Jianlian holds the ball during the Basketball World Cup game against Ivory Coast in Beijing in August 2019. Photo: AFP
He once told a local newspaper in 2018 that he would visit Jiangmen several times a year and "felt big changes in Jiangmen in recent years, with the city improving the development."
That clearly is an uphill task.
"Those in the chasing pack are closing in, while the model cities are getting far ahead," Lin Yingwu, Jiangmen's party secretary was reported as saying in during a work meeting in October 2016, comparing growth with neighbouring mainland cities. The lack of entrepreneurship and persistence to develop industries was cited among its weaknesses, he added.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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