Kunming's push toward becoming a developed international city dates back to the late 1990s when large-scale demolition, construction and road-widening projects set the tone for the following 10-plus years.
Assuming that predictions of an apocalypse in 2012 are erroneous, Kunming is preparing for three major developments in the coming year, all of which should have significant impact well into the future.
Increased connectivity will be the dominant theme in 2012. This includes connectivity within Kunming, connectivity with the outside world and connectivity with global financial markets.
Here's a look at the three upcoming developments that should leave us looking at a very different city at the end of 2012:
Kunming's urban light rail network
However you get around the city, it's difficult to avoid the construction, disruption and rerouting that centers around the full-speed ahead preparations for Kunming's urban light rail, which was first announced in 2008.
Kunming's upcoming light rail network is scheduled to launch initial operations in June, with a southern section of Line 1 to debut first, and additional stations being added northward as they become ready. This first phase will initiate the process of bringing Chenggong New Urban Area into the Kunming fold in earnest.
For many Kunming residents Chenggong feels far from the city, but by greatly reducing the time it takes to get from Kunming's four main urban districts to Chenggong, where much of the government and education infrastructure has been relocated, the city will effectively be adding a fifth major district.
A new streamilined connection to Chenggong will also facilitate commuting between "old" Kunming and "new" Kunming. Many residents who work in Chenggong but prefer to live in Guandu, Panlong, Wuhua or Xishan will no longer need to spend time stuck in traffic in the city's south or rent a second apartment in Chenggong.
Alternately, people who want to live somewhere cheaper and less congested but keep their job within the traditional confines of Kunming should also benefit from being able to move to Chenggong.
For many Kunming residents, the idea of moving to Chenggong may seem unlikely right now, but it doesn't take much imagination to envision a scenario that parallels the development of Shanghai's Pudong district over the past decade.
In 2000 few Shanghai residents were willing to relocate across the Huangpu River to Pudong, but the convenience of Line 2 and the steady increase in food, drink and entertainment options in Pudong, combined with more and more businesses establishing operations there and a total of five metro lines crossing the river, has led to Pudong no longer feeling remote.
It's far from a done deal, but it does seem likely that in the coming years your friends, hangouts and even your job may gradually migrate south to Chenggong.
Of course, the new metro network (click here for a look at proposed stations) is not just about connecting Kunming with Chenggong, it's also about providing a much-needed alternative to the city's increasingly congested streets. Ideally it will not only facilitate rapid travel around Kunming for residents who don't own cars, but will also lead to local car owners leaving the car at home more often.
Looking beyond next year, the light rail network will streamline getting around in Kunming, linking the city's four long-distance bus stations, the current train station, the new train station under construction in Chenggong and the new airport, which will also debut next year and is our next stop as we travel into the city's near future.
Kunming Changshui International Airport
To understand the significance of the gateway role Kunming is expected to play for China in the coming years, one need look no further than the long-awaited Kunming Changshui International Airport.
For a city that in recent years has only been noticed by the rest of the world for having China's largest dwarf theme park and a few fake Apple stores, the new airport should increase business and leisure travel to Kunming. Naturally, popular destinations around Yunnan will also benefit.
The new airport, which is expected to debut in January, will have two runways long enough to handle the largest passenger airliners operating today. As of April 2011, around 14.8 billion yuan (US$2.27 billion) had been spent on the airport's construction.
Some portions of Kunming's current airport, Kunming Wujiaba International Airport, date back more than a century. The airport, most notable for serving as a crucial base for the Flying Tigers in the 1940s, is operating near capacity and unable to serve future demand for flights to and from Kunming.
Wujiaba Airport handled 20.2 million passengers in 2010, seventh in China, but a fraction of what is expected for the future. Official projections have traffic hitting 38 million passengers in 2020 and well beyond that afterward.
Where will the people come from? According to industry news source Anna.aero, nearly 95 percent of last year's passenger traffic was domestic, and there is little doubt that domestic business and leisure travel to Kunming will increase with the opening of the new airport.
But international connectivity is most likely to be the real story with the new airport. A major increase in flights to Southeast Asia and South Asia seems certain, and there have been rumors in recent years of Kunming's first direct air links to Europe, Australia and even North America.
In addition to passengers, plenty of cargo should be crossing borders via the new airport. A 160-square kilometer airport economic zone is being built to handle the flow of goods in and out of Kunming, with much of that trade expected to be international. The increased trade taking place in Kunming due to the airport should put the city firmly on the global economic map.
Changshui Airport's construction has not gone as smoothly as it could, with two high-profile accidents, including one in which seven laborers died, affecting progress.
The airport's location 30 kilometers northeast of downtown Kunming will also present travelers with new considerations when considering how to get to the airport and when to leave.
Instead of slogging through traffic to get to an airport within the city, travelers flying out of the new airport will need to take a much longer taxi ride than before. It seems possible that many taxi drivers will be uninterested in taking passengers that far out of town with no guarantee of returning to the city immediately.
Eventually the new airport will have its own line on Kunming's light rail network, but in the years between then and now, frequent shuttle buses between downtown Kunming and the new airport would seem to be a likely way of dealing with getting passengers to and from the airport in an efficient and cost-effective way.
The Pan-Asia Gold Exchange
The third big development that should shake things up in Kunming is the relatively unknown and little-understood Pan-Asia Gold Exchange (泛亚黄金交易所), which is expected to launch gold trading by June.
Upon visiting the exchange's headquarters, we found that details regarding what services PAGE will offer, who it will work with and when it will open are still unclear. But that hasn't kept it from raising eyebrows in New York and London, the global gold trading centers.
What is known at the moment is that PAGE intends to offer gold contracts to individual buyers, some for physical gold, some for paper. It also intends to work with China Agricultural Bank to offer the bank's 320 million account holders the option to purchase to gold contracts online.
China already has gold exchanges in Shanghai and Hong Kong, but the proposed Kunming exchange has raised eyebrows in the world of precious metal trading. London-based analyst Andrew Maguire recently declared that PAGE will "destroy gold and silver shorts", adding:
"China is keen to diversify their cash holdings and is also encouraging citizens to make investments in gold and silver. The Pan Asia Gold Exchange is another step in this direction by opening up ease of access to physical gold and silver to their bank customers. This physical backed exchange is going to be a big game-changer.
Just look at the scale of this to get an idea of how massive this game-changer will be, The Agricultural Bank of China has over 320 million retail customers and 2.7 million corporate customers and has integrated its customer account information system with this platform.
By creating the first ever rolling spot contract, Chinese bank customers will for the first time have ease of access to 10 ounce gold contracts in Renminbi directly from their bank accounts and with the click of a mouse. To give a further idea of scale, if just 1% of their customers bought a single 10 ounce contract, that would equate to 1,000 tons of physical gold being drawn down.
Robert Lenzner at Forbes has also weighed in on PAGE, in a rather alarmist blog post entitled "The Chinese Mean to Control the Global Gold Market", in which he says the Kunming exchange sounds "bloody dangerous".
Regardless of how accurate Maguire or Lenzner's assessments are, it does seem likely that after losing out big through its purchases of US Treasury Bonds, China is looking at entry into global gold trading as a hedge against a weak dollar and a way to stabilize its portfolio.
Whether PAGE will actually do this remains to be seen, but given the "Pan-Asian" aspect of its name and the decision to base the exchange in Kunming, it would seem that Chinese buyers are not the only target market. If the exchange successfully courts Southeast Asian and Indian buyers of gold-denominated yuan, Kunming's aspirations to become a regional finance hub may come to fruition.
However things work out, 2012 is already shaping up to be an interesting year for Kunming.
Changshui Airport image: Wikipedia© Copyright 2005-2020 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.