Guangdong to help its backward west prosper

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am

Guangdong plans to make its backward western region a new engine of its economic development over the next decade, provincial party secretary Wang Yang said.

Wang told a meeting in the port city of Zhanjiang that Guangdong would boost the development of key western cities including Zhanjiang, Yunfu, Yangjiang and Maoming, which have a combined population of around 15 million people.

A statement by the provincial government yesterday said the western region had 'great advantages, such as convenient location, rich resources and good environment'.

Wang said the region had the potential to be an important destination for international industry, particularly heavy and chemical industries, and manufacturing. He also urged it to play a key role in the Tonkin Gulf Economic Zone.

The meeting in Zhanjiang was one in a series aimed at accelerating development in areas beyond the Pearl River Delta. In June, Wang chaired a similar meeting in Shantou, one of four major cities in eastern Guangdong, telling officials the province would help them catch up with wealthier delta neighbours.

Analysts of the regional economy said the move was critical for Guangdong's development and to narrow the wealth gap in the province.

'The western region is the best place in the province for heavy and chemical industries,' said Jin Xinyi, secretary general of the Shenzhen Chamber of Commerce.

He said Zhanjiang's Donghai Island was one of the best harbours in the country and could become a base for giant iron, steel and petrochemical plants.

Jin said the decision to move the major petrochemical refinery from Guangzhou's Nansha to Zhanjiang had shown the intention to stimulate the west.

Last year the newly established Guangdong Iron and Steel Group also chose Zhanjiang over Guangzhou for a future major hub.

Jin said that in the past decade, Guangdong had started falling behind the Yangtze River Delta in terms of heavy industry. But he said there were two big obstacles facing western Guangdong's cities.

'One is that the infrastructure, such as roads, railways and airports, in the region is relatively backward; the other is that investors may not have confidence in the efficiency and incorruptibility of local officials.'

Cheng Jiansan, an economic expert with a government think tank, Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, agreed that provincial leaders had made heavy and chemical industry the priority for the western region.

He said that once the huge refinery, a joint investment by Sinopec and the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, opened in Zhanjiang, it would be a world-class facility that supplied not only the province but also surrounding regions.

The growth of the PRD has slowed since early last year and it was among the areas hardest hit by the global economic downturn. As it recovers, Cheng said officials might look to the west first. 'It would also help narrow the wealth gap between the PRD and the two regions,' he added.

Last year, the per capita gross domestic product in the western region was 17,973 yuan (HK$20,400), nearly 20,000 yuan lower than Guangdong's average.