IN the past three decades, China has undergone an unprecedented wave of urbanisation, with some 260 million migrants moving from its rural areas to its cities. By 2030, Chinese cities are forecast to house around a billion people.
Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, has described it as " one of the most significant economic and social transformations humanity has ever seen".
"China's impressive transformation has been a clear example of how urbanisation can contribute to economic growth and prosperity in parallel to the important industrialisation process. The future of China and its growing urbanisation will open up a new and largely unknown stage of wealth, international tourism and quality of life not previously explored," wrote Dr Clos in an article last month.
However, rapid urbanisation has also put a strain on its infrastructure, natural resources and the environment. To deal with these challenges, the government has put in place a plan to promote access to basic public services among rural migrants settling in cities, improve the housing system, embark on the development of sustainable cities and strengthen measures to protect the environment.
Leveraging their experience back home, Singapore enterprises and government agencies have played a key role in helping to develop China's infrastructure since the 1990s, starting in the country's more established Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.
For instance, companies such as Keppel Corporation and Ascendas Singbridge have been involved in high-level government-to-government projects between Singapore and China, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) and Tianjin Eco-City.
SIP is today one of China's most successful townships while Tianjin Eco-City is a model for sustainable urbanisation for other cities in the country. Keppel, which entered the Chinese market in the early 1980s, has various business units involved in the eco-project, developing homes, office and retail space, and an 18-hole golf course.
The project has attracted investments of more than 55 billion yuan (S$12 billion). Since 2009, more than 10,000 homes in Tianjin Eco-City have been successfully launched by developers from various countries. Keppel currently has operations in 25 Chinese cities providing property development and infrastructure solutions.
Meanwhile, Ascendas has been involved in China's large-scale industrialisation since the 1990s. In 1995, it pioneered the "Ready-built Facilities" concept in China at Ascendas-Xinsu, which welcomed the first batch of foreign investors into SIP.
Since then, the company has grown its presence in China to 11 cities, providing a wide range of integrated business space solutions for companies involved in the manufacturing, science and technology, information technology, research and development (R&D), office and retail sectors.
"China, over the last few years, is undergoing an economic transformation towards new, high-tech and service industries. Our projects are in line with this transformation," said Wong Wing Kien, CEO of Ascendas China.
One example is the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), which is set to become one of China's first smart cities. Ascendas OneHub GKC, an integrated development located in the SSGKC, is on track to complete its first business space buildings by end-2015. The Singapore Centre within Ascendas OneHub GKC was also recently opened to provide one-stop services to assist Singapore-based companies investing in China.
The merger between Ascendas and Singbridge to form Ascendas-Singbridge Group in June 2015 has strengthened its ability to develop end-to-end integrated solutions for sustainable developments in the region.
However, the fast-changing business environment in China means that Singapore enterprises operating there must be nimble enough to respond in a timely manner, noted Mr Wong. "The Chinese companies are also very ambitious and learn fast. So it is a constant challenge to offer distinctive customer solutions that have an edge over our competitors," he said.
That said, Singapore companies' long history of success operating on the mainland and the strong ties between Singapore and China give them an edge over the competition.
Said Loh Chin Hua, CEO of Keppel Corporation: "We have built a strong track record and good relations with our Chinese partners. These allow us to leverage their deep insights and keen knowledge of the Chinese market to further grow our operations there."