Nansha, Qianhai and Hengqin eye links to HK, Macau

One newly approved free trade zone in China is being closely watched by economic observeres. That's the Guangdong Free Trade Area in the Southern Chinese coastal province. It's a gateway to Hong Kong, China's major pacific portal. Premier Li Keqiang's recent visit to the area signals the priority the new FTZ enjoys in China's long-term plans.

It's a three-hub free trade area. The Guangdong Free Trade Zone is spread out over three cities in the southern coastal province.

Among the three sub-zones, Qianhai in the city of Shenzhen is said to be a financial zone with strong links to Hong Kong.

So far, 18,000 firms have set up bases there. Two-thirds of them are financial companies.

To the north of Qianhai lies Nansha free trade hub. It's in the suburban area of Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province. It's set to be a new urban center for Guangzhou.

Unlike being designed as a financial center, Nansha will develop all kinds of service businesses.

The Hengqin FTZ is in the city of Zhuhai. Macau is right across the Zhujiang River. And it's role among the greater Guangdong Free Trade Area is clear: it's a portal to Macau for trade.

But overall market expectations for new FTZs in China have been weakening as the development of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone established last year was slower than expected. Still, analysts say the Shanghai Free Trade Zone is considered a good reference point to be duplicated and promoted.