There are approximately 137 Starbucks in Beijing International Airport, but only two inside of Terminal 3: the waiting area for international flights (1). In Terminal 2, there are none. How do I know this, well, because I like to drink coffee when I write.
That’s just one example of how Beijing’s main international hub has failed to keep up with an increasingly cosmopolitan and well-travelled group of travellers.
Importantly, Beijing International is owned by BICA (Beijing Capital International Airport Co. Ltd.) a state owned enterprise (SOE) (2).
In light of this, I shouldn’t be surprised about the lack of F&B options. And normally I wouldn’t bother writing on such a dreary topic. However, another detail –the opening of a larger airport in the suburbs of Beijing – actually opens the topic up to some more interesting speculation and analysis.
北京大兴国际机场 – Beijing Daxing International Airport
To the south of the Forbidden City on the border of Hebei and Beijing, a new airport, Beijing Daxing International, is set to open in September of 2019.
Beijing plans to make its new airport a major international hub in Northern China, with reports that it will even be the largest in the word (3). When completely finished, it will have 11 total runways with the ability to accommodate 620,00 flights and 100 million passengers each year.
With respect to the poor commercialization of Beijing International Airport, plans for a new regional hub become increasingly interesting. Why? Well, if building strong infrastructure and implementing technology is a core strength of the CCP, and commercializing projects to the same level of international peers is a weakness, then this new airport will shed some light on how SOEs and other government-directed projects are going to change as the Chinese economy continues to evolve.
In terms of commercialization plans for the airport, its not clear how the airport will specifically improve compared to Beijing International. Interestingly, it was released that Hong Kong studio Lead 8 was appointed as the lead designer of the new airport’s commercial terminal in 2018.
According to Lead 8, the terminal will include “a purposeful design of work spaces, with integrated retail, dining, and entertainment options for the large number of passengers” as well as interactive pet hotels, child care and nursery, hybrid online retail and dining, and a showroom for companies (4).
Based on this description, we can expect to see some improvements, but jut which brands and partnerships are going to be made are still unclear.
The physical design of the airport looks promising. Especially when you consider that the most memorable thing about Beijing International is a giant, man-made flower pot nearby the pick-up area.
It has been reported that a number of firms have been hired for architectural design, including Zaha Hadid Architects.
From a bird’s eye view, the structure of the entire airport will resemble a starfish. At an interior level, the mock-ups look beautiful, but it is still difficult to make any final judgments until it opens for business this summer.
京津冀 +雄安新区 – Jing-Jin-Ji and Xiongan New Area
The success or failure of Beijing Daxing International will be an important milestone for Beijing and Hebei Province. Of course, the way in which we judge its success will apply to the entirety of the project and not just its restaurants and design.
Having said this, it is important to consider the broader context of the situation. The construction of the new airport is one piece of a greater economic development plan for the Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei regions: commonly referred to as “Jing-Jin-Ji.” This plan aims to maximize regional advantages and increase cooperation between the provinces of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, similarly to the successful development plans of the Peal River Delta and Yangtze River Delta.
According to Mark Preen, who wrote a series of articles for China Briefing News on the plan, “Areas within the Jing-Jin-Ji region already have their own strengths in specific areas. Beijing is known as a political, educational, cultural, and R&D center; Tianjin is known as northern China’s logistics center, with one of the busiest ports in the world; and Hebei province is known for its heavy industries, including steel production.” (4)
Beijing Daxing International is going to play an important role in this project: increasing the flight path capacity and occupying a strategic location on the border of Beijing and Hebei. In fact, the airport will be located close to Xiongan, which is the planned site for a new special economic zone (similar to both Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and Shanghai Pudong New Area) (4).
If we consider Beijing Daxing International a milestone project for SOEs and government-direct projects, then can we consider the Jing-Jin-Ji economic development plan in the same way? I don’t think so. Beijing is such an important city that it’s difficult to believe cooperation with Tianjin and Hebei Province will slow it down. The disparity of economics and political clout between the Capital and other neighboring regions has led many to criticize the plan.
At a closer level, the success of Beijing Daxing International will be important regardless of the Jing-Jin-Ji plan. Certainly it has already attracted a lot of media attention, and I expect that trend to continue moving forward.
Finally, thinking back to my times in T2 eating instant noodles and drinking Nescafé, I do think its important to reframe the original question.
Does it really matter if I can drink Starbucks or go to a fancy restaurant?
Perhaps my own discontent in this area is actually less connected to the role of SOEs in Chinese society, and rather my own flawed … increasingly cosmopolitan and well-traveled character.