Rust-belt revival a priority for plenum

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2003, 12:00am

Leaders are planning a strategy to boost the northeast's stagnant economy

Reviving the fortunes of the nation's industrial rust belt in the northeast is set to dominate a meeting of Communist Party leaders later this month.

The three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning used to be the mainland's most important industrial heartland under the planned economy.

But they have struggled to compete with coastal regions as the country transforms itself into a market economy.

Many businesses that were losing money have been closed down and millions of workers have been sacked or told to go home with minimum pay.

But party leaders are planning to formulate a strategy to jump-start the region's stagnant economy at the third plenary session from October 11 to 14 following the 16th Communist Party Congress last November.

At a politburo meeting chaired by President Hu Jintao on Monday, party leaders set rejuvenating northeastern provinces as 'a national development strategy', a report by Xinhua said. Mr Hu is also the general secretary of the Communist Party.

Feng Jie, of the State Council's Department of Development Strategy and Regional Economy Research Centre, said it could take decades to transform the region fully into an open market economy, adding that the central government would not rush the three provinces into privatising their state-owned enterprises.

'There won't be any shock therapy. We have to find a balancing point to allow the old planned economy to gradually move towards a more market-orientated economy without affecting social stability. The most important thing is to change people's mindset and that will take time,' he said.

Mr Feng said China's entry into the World Trade Organisation had further pressured the central government to reform the region. But he said the government would most likely provide capital to help local enterprises in the northeast provinces pay off their debts.

'What is important is that we can establish a healthy market for business to thrive. The government should not focus on detailed development projects. What they need to do is to build up a system,' he said.

Xinhua reported that the road to revitalising the northeastern provinces would be 'long and difficult', but that revitalising the old industrial base would have a very important bearing on the realisation of China's goal of building a relatively affluent society within a decade.

During an inspection tour to the northeast this year, Premier Wen Jiabao said in a speech that the central government would support the three provinces in their efforts to readjust the economic structure and to upgrade technology.