Plan offered to develop west
CHINA'S cash-strapped western regions which lag far behind their coastal counterparts should use 'development poles' a mainland scholar suggested.
This is despite 15 years of reform and opening up.
These 'poles', similar to special economic zones such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou, should be able to generate returns on investments in a shorter period of time, said Zhang Mingtao, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The 59-year-old veteran researcher has been involved, for at least two decades, in the development of China's vast western autonomous regions and provinces, including Tibet, Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Gansu.
Last year, Chinese leaders highlighted the importance of developing the economy of the northwest region.
A member of the standing committee of the Politburo, Li Ruihuan, even went as far as saying that 'China's hope lies on the great northwest'.
While Beijing has reversed, at least verbally, its longstanding bias against the more backward west, Professor Zhang said the Government was working on policies to develop those regions which were home to the country's rich natural resources.
'These areas [development poles] will function as dragon heads, leading the overall economic development of these provinces,' Professor Zhang said.
Although initial investments have to come from the central Government and outside these regions, Mr Zhang contended that development of these 'poles' would help their mother provinces to become self-supportive and self-sustainable in the long run.
'The cost might be very high, but still, they deserve priority treatment,' the professor said.
A further polarisation of China's east and west would risk social stability, he warned.
'Conflicts among the different minority groups in these regions are already very serious,' Professor Zhang pointed out.
He added that developing the western regions would also help boost economic development of the coastal regions.
'The west can provide the east with natural resources and raw materials, while the latter can give in return technology and capital. They compliment each other,' he maintained.
The 'one river, two tributaries' project around Lhasa and Xigaze in Tibet, which was completed in 1992 with an investment of more than 4 billion yuan (HK$3.67 billion) from Beijing, will help Tibet become self-sufficient and upgrade its level of social development, Professor Zhang added.