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Scott Jagow: Tomorrow, the city of Shanghai opens one of the world’s tallest buildings. It’s taken 14 years to build this thing. So does this mean Shanghai has arrived as a global financial power? Here’s our correspondent in Shanghai, Scott Tong.
Scott Tong: The Shanghai World Financial Centre is a slim, glass structure that soars 1,600 feet high. Its signature is a big, square hole near the top, as if the building doubles as a giant bottle opener. [greetings in Japanese] At the media preview, staff members greet and bow in unison. It’s a touch imported by the building’s Japanese owner.
Another dominant theme here is futuristic. In the elevator lobby, space-age kaleidoscopes gyrate from the ceiling. Indeed, developer Minoru Mori says the building will help Shanghai blast off into the future.
Minoru Mori [through translator]: It will become a global magnet that attracts the best and the brightest people and resources. We support Shanghai’s development into a real global financial center.
But one trophy building does not make a financial capital. Yang Chaojun teaches finance at Shanghai’s Jiaotong University. He says buildings and infrastructure do matter. He calls it hardware. But China’s human software is lacking.
Yang Chaojun [through translator]: Our software, our commitment to following the rules, our talent pool — all these soft skills need to improve so we can catch up to the rest of the world.
Shanghai’s biggest weakness is regulations from Beijing. The Chinese government imposes high corporate taxes; it restricts foreign currency from coming and going; and it limits the financial products on the shelf. It’s as if Shanghai were a casino that only has slot machines. Glenn Mcguire is an economist with Societe Generale in Hong Kong.
Glenn Mcguire: There’s not the same investment opportunities in the China market as there is in the Hong Kong market. These type of products — financial markets, futures markets — take several years, if not a decade, to develop.
One poll ranks Shanghai 31st of the world’s top financial centers. London is No .1, then New York and Hong Kong. The poll predicts Shanghai will move up. But for now, some international consultants still mock it as a world-class wannabe. Take the financial district’s name. It’s Pudong. Or as the joke goes, Pu-Jersey.
In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.
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