Key Role for Hong Kong Service Sector in Huge Philippines BRI Project


Hong Kong architecture firm provides ambitious blueprint for China-backed New Manila Bay – City of Pearl initiative.

Photo: Valued at US$100 billion, the New Manila Bay – City of Pearl is said to be Asia’s first truly smart city.Valued at US$100 billion, the New Manila Bay – City of Pearl is said to be Asia's first truly smart city.

At the end of August this year, work commenced on a project deemed to be one of the most ambitious in Asia, while also representing a new high watermark for co-operation between China and the Philippines. Implemented within the framework of China's huge and expanding Belt and Road Initiative, the project has been billed as "a revolutionary self-sustaining smart community set to transcend international benchmarks".

It is also expected to transcend the cost of most international infrastructure ventures, although exact figures regarding the development and construction of the project, the New Manila BayCity of Pearl, are hard to come by. Given the scale of the task at hand, with the current provisional completion date being some point in 2035, estimating the final cost is understandably difficult. Among the developers and would-be backers, a figure of US$100 billion, however, has been bandied around as representing the likely value of the finished project.

With its developers proudly proclaiming it to be "the first genuinely smart city in Southeast Asia", the City of Pearl is to be constructed on a 407-hectare stretch of reclaimed land in the very heart of Manila, the Philippines' capital. Conceptualised by Ho & Partners Architects (HPA), an award-winning Hong Kong-based architectural practice, the project will be sited on a promontory of reclaimed land extending from central Manila out into New Manila Bay.

With funding for the venture sourced from backers across the world, the resulting development consortium is consequently somewhat multi-layered. Essentially, the project is a public-private partnership between an international consortium, led by the UAA Kinming Group – itself a consortium of Filipino-Chinese developers, as well as additional partner companies from Hong Kong, mainland China, Southeast Asia and Europe – and Manila's city government. Dredging and land-filling services, meanwhile, will be provided by China Harbor Engineering, the same Beijing-based contractor that successfully reclaimed 214 hectares of land off the coast of Davao City, the second-largest municipality in the Philippines, in 2016.

The far-reaching plans for the City of Pearl see it as a city within a city, integrating contemporary low- and high-rise living and working, with sports, retail, entertainment, leisure and tourism facilities, all linked by an environmentally friendly transport network. It is also hoped that the entire island city will be supported by renewable energy sources, including tidal and solar power. All of this will be overseen by an integrated artificial intelligence (AI) network, which will ensure all of the various citywide systems remain co-ordinated.

The completed city, which is envisaged as strikingly pearl-shaped, will combine a central business district, complete with iconic skyscrapers and grade A offices with a five-star hotel, private residences and educational and healthcare facilities. The blueprint for the scheme also envisages a looped road network and a state-of-the art-driverless rail service encircling the city, with points on the north and south of the island connecting to other districts of Manila via a fleet of water taxis.

In terms of leisure facilities, the island city will offer an 18-hole championship golf course and extensive parkland, while a marina yacht club and beachside waterpark will form part of a 10km coastal promenade that rings the entire reclaimed space. Among the other proposed amenities are a 3km riverside shopping and entertainment district and a convention centre, which it is hoped will successfully attract a number of international conferences and exhibitions. Similarly, the 8,000-seat PacMan Stadium, named after Manny Pacquiao, a popular Filipino boxer-turned-politician, will target global sporting and entertainment events.

Overall, it is expected that the project will play a major role in tackling Manila's high levels of unemployment. Some 100,000 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase, with a further 500,000 vacancies opening up once the site becomes fully operational.

With the initial stage of the reclamation work now under way, it is expected that the first residential tower will be completed by 2024. Further sections of the city complex are then scheduled to be finalised and rolled out every two to three years, with the final phase up and running by 2035.

Marilyn Balcita, Special Correspondent, Manila