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A Future Economic Backbone
The Yangtze River provides fertile grounds for development
By Deng Yaqing | NO. 7 FEBRUARY 18, 2016

 

Containers line up neatly at the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone on September 19, 2015 (XINHUA)

Revered as the Chinese people's "Mother River," the Yangtze River's economic importance has swelled, giving way to the recent formation of the Yangtze River Economic Belt as a key component of the nation's regional economic strategy.

Being the longest river in Asia, the Yangtze traverses the west, central and east China. The Yangtze River Economic Belt runs through 11 provinces and municipalities that cover roughly one fifth of China's territory, encompasses a population of 600 million and generates more than 40 percent of the country's GDP.

"To stoke the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, a free flow of factors should be facilitated; comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development reinforced; and the efficiency of the factor allocation enhanced," said Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 12th meeting of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs held on January 26.

Xi also stressed the role of the Yangtze as a golden waterway and the importance of low-carbon, green growth in industrial development.

In fact, in as early as the 1980s, the concept of the Yangtze River Economic Belt was put forward as an axis of China's economic development. However, in the past three decades, development in the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze has lagged behind that of its lower reaches, as well as other coastal regions such as the Pearl River Delta in south China and the Bohai Sea-rim economic circle in north China.

Coastal regions have the upper hand in absorbing cutting-edge techniques from oversea businesses. But although these regions have become quite developed, they are now confronting a slowdown. Wu Xinmu, a professor from the Economics and Management School of Wuhan University, told Legal Weekly that regions along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze are now emerging as an alternative source of growth.

The Yangtze River Economic Belt will not only fuel the comprehensive, sustainable development of the inland economy by allowing central and western regions in the upper and middle reaches of the river to emulate the achievements obtained by coastal regions, but it will also help wrench impoverished regions out of poverty. It may narrow the development gap between east China and the central and western regions, claimed Peng Minzhi, head of the Research Institute of Economy in Yangtze River, Hubei Academy of Social Sciences, in an article published in Legal Weekly .

"In the short term, it will contribute to the steady growth of the country's economy; in the long term, it will foster new growth engines," Ma Qingbin, an associate research fellow from the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, told China Business Radio.

 

A worker checks an industrial robot at an intelligent equipment manufacturing company in Chongqing on May 21, 2015 (XINHUA)

Overall planning

As positioned in the Guidelines on Promoting the Development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt by Relying on the Golden Watercourse of the Yangtze River released in September 2014, the river will be built into a globally influential inland river economic belt. The belt is expected to advance interaction and cooperation among east, central and west China, and propel the regions neighboring the Yangtze, the South China Sea as well as the Chinese border to open up to both the outside world and the hinterland.

It is also seen to promote ecological lifestyles, provide an avenue for the exploration of the huge potential of domestic consumption in the upper and middle reaches of Yangtze, and it will also help regions along the river attain economic prosperity similar to that of China's coastal regions.

The guidelines suggested that progress should be made in terms of pushing forward new urbanization over the development course of the Yangtze River Economic Belt. In the future, efforts will be made to boost the competitiveness of the Yangtze River Delta city agglomeration, facilitate the development of the city cluster in the middle reaches of the river, spur the integration of Chongqing and Sichuan's Chengdu, push the development of the two regional city clusters in central Guizhou and Yunnan, and lead the development of cities located alongside the Yangtze.

Xiao Jincheng, Director of the Institute of Spatial Planning and Regional Economy at the National Development and Reform Commission noted in an article that city clusters in the Yangtze River Delta and the middle reaches of the river and Chongqing-Chengdu urban agglomeration make up a major axis for development in China.

In addition, progress should also be made in blazing an international channel with Western countries, strengthening economic cooperation with countries in southeast, south and central Asia, building a platform for high-level opening up and formulating an institutional system compatible with international investment and trade.

"Linking west, central and east China, the Yangtze River Economic Belt paves the way for the transfer of prosperity to the inland and underpins an economic transformation and upgrading. Aside from that, by joining up with the Silk Road Economic Belt, it will help create greater avenues for opening up," said Wang Jun, Deputy Director of the Consultation and Research Department of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

"In fact, there are many coinciding points between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Yangtze River Economic Belt. Given that, focus should be given to promoting their convergence when making plans on infrastructure construction, frontier economic zones and cross-border cooperation zones," said Ma.

Transportation corridor

Compared with land and air transportation, water transportation is cheaper. Promoting the sound development of the shipping industry

along the Yangtze is of significant importance to the optimization of the industrial structure and the urbanization layout in the region, said Yang Chuantang, Minister of Transport, at a meeting held by the ministry on November 17, 2015.

In 2015, the volume of freight traffic in the main line of the river reached 2.18 billion tons, up 45 percent from the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) period. In 2014, the figure was 2.06 billion tons, ranking first globally for 10 consecutive years, according to statistics from the Changjiang Waterway Bureau.

"A complete traffic network is integral to realize industrial transfer and quicken the development of central and west China," said Xu Fengxian, a research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who specializes in regional economics, in an interview with the Shanghai Securities News .

According to the Comprehensive Three-dimensional Transportation Corridor Plan for the Yangtze River Economic Belt (2014-20) published in September 2014, the integrated transportation corridor will be comprised of waterways, railways, roads, airlines and pipelines. By the end of 2020, the operating distance of the railway, highway, pipeline and urban railway system will reach 40,000 km, 2 million km, 70,000 km and 3,600 km, respectively, with 100 civil transport airports in service.

Green development

The traditional method used to treat pollution has become unsustainable. The concept of green development should be a main characteristic of the Yangtze River Economic Belt and spark new productive forces, said Ma, who believes that a new development pattern that differs from what has been followed by eastern regions will unfold.

The Yangtze River Economic Belt should pursue sustainable, coordinated and innovative development, rather than focusing solely on the speed and scale of its economic growth, said Chen Wenling, chief economist at the China Center of International Economic Exchanges, at a forum held in Yangzhong, Jiangsu Province on January 9-10.

Chen also noted that entrepreneurs and governments in regions along the Yangtze now need to make a strategic choice regarding the shift in growth drivers.

"Extensive development methods featuring high energy consumption, pollution and emission should be replaced with high-end, intelligent and innovative ones," said Chen.

Xu Heping, former Director of the Research Office of the Ministry of Science and Technology agreed, stating that, "the transformation of the methods used for economic development is integral to the promotion of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, with clean energy and intelligent manufacturing as supportive forces."

Jiangsu

- Population: 79.6 million

- GDP: 7.01 trillion yuan, up 8.5%

Zhejiang

- Population: 55.08 million

- GDP: 4.29 trillion yuan, up 8%

Sichuan

- Population: 81.4 million

- GDP: 3.01 trillion yuan, up 7.9%

Hubei

- Population: 58.16 million

- GDP: 2.96 trillion yuan, up 8.9%

Hunan

- Population: 67.37 million

- GDP: 2.9 trillion yuan, up 8.6%

Shanghai

- Population: 24.26 million

- GDP: 2.5 trillion yuan, up 6.9 percent

Anhui

- Population: 60.83 million

- GDP: 2.2 trillion yuan, up 8.7%

Jiangxi

- Population: 45.42 million

- GDP: 1.67 trillion yuan, up 9.1%

Chongqing

- Population: 29.91 million

- GDP: 1.57 trillion yuan, up 11%

Yunnan

- Population: 47.14 million

- GDP: 1.37 trillion yuan, up 8.7%

Guizhou

- Population: 35.08 million

- GDP: 1.05 trillion yuan, up 10.7%

* Population numbers are as of the end of 2014 and GDP figures are for 2015, and growth rates are compared with the previous year.

* $1=6.6 yuan

The Establishment of the Yangtze River Economic Belt

January 2016: President Xi Jinping held a symposium on improving the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, stressing ecological protection and green development in boosting the growth of the Yangtze River Economic Belt.

December 2014: At the 2014 Central Economic Work Conference, an emphasis was laid on the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, the coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei and the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt.

September 2014: The State Council released the Guidelines on Promoting the Development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt by Relying on the Golden Watercourse of the Yangtze River (2014-20).

June 2014: At an executive meeting of the State Council, Premier Li Keqiang made arrangements for the construction of an integrated transport corridor for the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt.

April 2014: During his visit to Chongqing, Premier Li hosted a symposium on the Yangtze River Economic Belt attended by leaders from the 11 provinces and municipalities concerned, tackling issues on building the belt by relying on the golden waterway.

March 2014: In the 2014 government work report, Premier Li suggested fostering new regional economic belts as a strategic way to fuel economic growth and build the Yangtze River Economic Belt by taking advantage of the golden waterway.

September 2013: The National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Transport jointly convened a mobilization meeting targeted at drawing up the guidelines on building a new economic belt by relying on the Yangtze. In December, the geographical scope of the Yangtze River Economic Belt was expanded to nine provinces and two municipalities.

July 2013: During his visit to central China's Hubei Province, President Xi Jinping urged regions along the Yangtze to strengthen cooperation, give play to the shipping function of inland rivers, and try their utmost to build the Yangtze into a golden waterway.

March 2013: During his visit to Shanghai, Premier Li encouraged the Port of Shanghai to play a leading role in developing the golden waterway on the Yangtze and driving the development of ports along the river and hinterlands in its upper and middle reaches.

January 2013: The State Council approved the comprehensive planning of the Yangtze River (2012-30), which was formulated by the Ministry of Water Resources.

December 2012: Premier Li visited Jiujiang, east China's Jiangxi Province, and stressed the importance of developing the Yangtze River region.

(Compiled by Beijing Review )

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

Comments to dengyaqing@bjreview.com

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