Wen Jiabao

State agency to direct growth of interior

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 12:00am

A cabinet-level agency will soon be established to speed up the development of the mainland's landlocked central provinces.

The establishment of the office of the State Council's leading group on the development of the central region will mark a key stage in the implementation of the national plan to develop laggard provinces, the People's Daily said yesterday, quoting central government officials.

Chen Quansheng , head of the industry, transport and trade department of the State Council's Research Office, told the Communist Party mouthpiece the office would be set up 'very soon'.

'The setting up of the new office will mark the speeding up of the programme to promote the region's development,' Mr Chen said. One of its main functions would be to co-ordinate development among the central provinces.

The central government acknowledged the widening development gaps between regions following more than two decades of economic reform when, in 2000, it launched a campaign to develop the poverty-stricken western region. In 2003, it launched another to 'rejuvenate' the northeast.

The 'rise of the central region' has become a new catchphrase in the past two years, since the strategy was set out in a government work report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao to the National People's Congress.

Until recently the strategy, covering the provinces of Henan , Hubei , Hunan , Anhui , Jiangxi and Shanxi , remained a topic of academic debate without any concrete policies or measures being adopted.

But in late March a Politburo meeting chaired by President Hu Jintao discussed the development of the region and stressed the project was one of the country's long-term strategic tasks. The following month the State Council issued a policy document to implement the party's decision.

Yin Shuqin , deputy head of the economic and trade department at the National Development and Reform Commission, the mainland's top planning agency, said central ministries had been working out policies and measures to implement the Rejuvenating Central China Strategy since then.

Mr Wen heads two groups on the development of the western and northeastern regions. The State Council has separate cabinet-level offices to support both. They are headed by Ma Kai , the minister in charge of the commission. Mr Chen said the new office would be similar to these.

The six provinces have a population of 361 million, 28.1 per cent of the country's total. Of those, 244 million people live in rural areas, comprising 31.2 per cent of the mainland's rural population.

Economists said the strategy of promoting co-ordinated development of regions was part of efforts to narrow the mainland's growing income gap. Average annual gross domestic product growth in the region between 2001 and 2003 was 0.4 per cent lower than that of the western region, and 1.8 per cent lower than that of the east.