China's top development planners plot new direction

Outline of coordinated regional development policies from the NDRC is hailed as aiding urbanisation strategy and resource allocation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 6:12pm

The mainland's economic planner sketched out the basis of a new generation of coordinated regional development policies yesterday that could herald a shift away from planning that previously focused on infrastructure expansion.

The initiatives include creating a massive regional hub in the north integrating Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin, deepening state economy reforms in the northeastern rust belt, and pushing forward industrial upgrading of the east and making it a testing area for more market reforms.

Officials at the National Development and Reform Commission said the new policies would help boost the quality of urbanisation and allow resources to be better allocated.

"This marks a major shift in China's urbanisation strategy," said Shen Jianguang, Mizuho Securities' chief economist for Greater China.

"The previous plans built many small cities in an attempt to absorb migrant workers, but ended up with lots of 'ghost cities' without creating enough jobs. Now, the focus should be shifted back to big cities."

Beijing has pledged to move about 100 million people from rural areas to cities by 2020, raising the proportion of urban residents to about 60 per cent of the total population from the current 53.7 per cent.

Since the 1990s, the government has rolled out policies including the Western Development initiative, the "Northeastern Rust Belt Rejuvenation" and "Rise of Central China" programmes in order to support regional development.

NDRC spokesman Li Pumin said economic growth in the central and western regions had outpaced that of the eastern coastal region for six consecutive years. Growth in the east was 9.1 per cent last year, trailing the 9.7 per cent growth in the central region and 10.7 per cent rise in the west, while the pace in the northeast was the slowest at 8.4 per cent.

For the integration of the Jing-Jin-Ji area, shorthand for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, the government was aiming to draft plans as quickly as possible, said Fan Hengshan, deputy secretary general at the NDRC.

The plan will centre on infrastructure building, industrial upgrading and coordination, and ecological and environmental protection, he said.

Beijing's status as the capital has helped the city expand in the past decades, causing serious traffic jams and choking pollution. Fan acknowledged that growth in the northeast remained slow, which covers the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang and featured traditional heavy industries.

"Since last year, the equipment manufacturing industry has been hurt by declining investment demand across China," he said. State-owned enterprise reforms should be deepened, and more effort should be devoted to accelerating the upgrading of old industrial areas, he said.