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China eyes growth with world's largest aquarium

HENGQIN ISLAND, China--A giant 63-meter blue whale shark statue towers over the world's largest aquarium, on a Chinese island being promoted as a testing ground for reforms aimed at encouraging domestic consumption as the driver of economic growth.

Hengqin Island is just across the Pearl River from Shenzhen, the boom town on the border with Hong Kong that was designated a Special Economic Zone 35 years ago.

At the time Shenzhen was a fishing village. Now foreign investment and a freer capitalist economy have turned it into an export powerhouse with a population of more than 10 million and miles of high-rise buildings.

But in the face of a long term slowdown in growth, China is looking to refocus its economy to one where expansion is driven by domestic consumption rather than infrastructure investment and overseas trade.

Hengqin is being developed as a test bed for a new kind of reform, said to stretch even to punching holes through the country's “Great Firewall” of Internet censorship.

Now largely fields and scrubland, the island is intended as a hub for education, creative industries and tourism, with theme parks, hotels and restaurants tapping the swelling wallets of China's new middle class.

The aquarium at the US$5 billion Chimelong Ocean Kingdom holds a stupendous 49 million liters (about 50,000 tons) of water — certified as the world's largest by Guinness World Records when it opened in March — held back by a cinema-screen-sized window bathing spectators in blue light.

A rainbow of sea creatures from tiny yellow croakers, blue sailfish and lumbering sharks drifted past.

“It's huge,” 11 year-old Wu Junfeng exclaimed, as his mother looked on, clutching their 300 yuan (US$50) tickets. “There's fish and turtles!”

Half-finished Blocks

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This photo shows visitors looking at the aquarium inside the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin Island in the city of Zhuhai, Guangdong province, April 29.

(AFP

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