Border area could be nation's powerhouse
A proposal to transform the northern border region of Inner Mongolia - best known for its vast grasslands, nomadic herders and rich natural reserves - into a national industrial energy base has been completed and will be submitted to the central government.
The three-year study, funded by the Asian Development Bank and carried out by a team from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the State Council, the Ministry of Finance and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, urges Beijing to set up a gigantic energy centre combining production and storage of resources.
ADB project co-ordinator Duan Lianao told the China Economic Times the base would be crucial to the mainland as it faced new and imminent challenges in economic development, the environment and national security.
Inner Mongolia is the top pick of the base's possible locations largely thanks to its rich coal and oil deposits, as well as its unparalleled solar and wind sources, the report says.
The region, more than twice the size of France but with less than 2 per cent of the mainland's population, has nearly 700 billion tonnes of coal, the biggest untapped reserves on the mainland. It also has the country's biggest natural gas reserve - more than 4,000 billion cubic metres - and stocks of most minerals.
Inner Mongolia also has the world's biggest available area for wind power plants and the second-largest solar energy potential.
Some analysts have suggested that by covering half of the region's barren land with solar panels, all the mainland's coal-fired power plants could be shut down.
Compared with other resource-rich but distant provinces, such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia has the advantage of being close to industrial centres.
Northeast provinces such as Liaoning and Heilongjiang and big cities like Beijing and Tianjin have enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years and would benefit from a boost in energy supplies from Inner Mongolia.
The autonomous region is already one of the biggest electricity suppliers on the mainland as a result of a boom of coal-fired power plant construction since 2000. The surge in the metals, chemical and oil industries has also made the region one of the fastest developing economies in the country.
But the region's political leaders are not satisfied with the returns for Inner Mongolia's contributions.
Like many in other resource-rich areas on the mainland, they feel exploited, not earning the share they deserve as neighbouring provinces get rich.
They hope Beijing will accept the proposal, invest billions of yuan and make Inner Mongolia one of the mainland's modern industrialised regions.
Beijing has imposed a strict, conservative environmental policy on the region to preserve its fragile, rapidly degenerating environment. Its population has increased tenfold in the past two decades.