City bridges great divide
Chongqing is one of China's most important cities and the country's fourth municipality, after Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, to fall directly under the administration of the central government.
In recent years, Chongqing has been playing a leading role in the central government's strategy to open up its economy and develop the inland and western areas to bring them on a par with their coastal counterparts.
With the support of the central government, the municipal government has carried out several major reforms that could have far-reaching effects not only for Chongqing but also other parts of the mainland if these prove successful.
In 2008, Chongqing announced 10 key projects that were designed to improve the livelihood of its people, covering areas as widespread as housing, household registration, environment, welfare of farmers, medical, small enterprises, security and environmental protection.
In a country where economic construction is still a top priority, these projects are considered ambitious, considering that the economy and fiscal revenues of Chongqing still lag behind those of coastal cities.
The municipality established the Chongqing Country Land Exchange in 2008 and the Chongqing Medicine Exchange last year in an effort to regulate the market and control price increases from getting out of control.
Last year, it introduced a household registration system to allow farmers to obtain urban citizenship. It also launched public rental housing projects to provide affordable accommodation for middle-income and low-income groups. All these reforms are the first of their kind on the mainland.
Huang Qifan, mayor of Chongqing municipality, says the development model of inland cities, such as Chongqing, should be different from those of coastal cities. For example, the economies of coastal cities are often driven by processing trade, but this is difficult for inland cities because of higher transport costs for parts and raw materials.
For this reason, the municipal government has been taking initiatives to encourage investors to source their parts and materials locally. This has achieved success, particularly with the notebook computer industry.
According to Huang, three of the world's top notebook brands - HP, Acer and Asus - now have their products made mainly in Chongqing by six of the world's largest original equipment manufacturing companies, sourcing their parts and materials from about 200 local suppliers.
The total output of notebook computers from these manufacturers is expected to reach 100 million units a year by 2015, making Chongqing the world's largest production base for these items.
Despite the economic success, Huang stresses the importance of improving the livelihood of people because they will then be in a far better position to contribute to the continued growth of the economy and promote a harmonious society.
One example is the reform of household registration of rural residents, which allows them to obtain urban citizenship, so that they are entitled to the same protection and benefits as their urban counterparts while keeping the right to use or transfer their land for redevelopment.
Over the past eight months, about 1.8 million rural residents were granted urban citizenship and the number is expected to reach 3 million by the end of this year.
Huang says that while the additional population will be a burden for the government and the enterprises it provides, the city will benefit in the long run because of increased domestic consumption and development.
The goal of the reforms is to narrow the wealth gap between people living in urban and rural areas, and to meet their basic needs, he says. 'We will assess the barometer each year,' Huang says. 'If the gaps are still large, the reforms are not really successful and will show that we are not able to create a harmonious society.'