A sense of urgency looms large among senior Guangdong leaders who are worried that the economic powerhouse may lose its top spot in terms of total economic output by as early as 2015, while the province's new party chief, Hu Chunhua said pressure on future growth was "beyond my expectation".
In a panel discussion on Friday afternoon, Hu told the provincial legislative congress that the gross domestic product of Jiangsu province was catching up quickly with Guangdong, according to a China News Service report.
Hu said that whichever province earned the No1 ranking for GDP growth would attract even more investment.
The comment came in stark contrast to Hu's predecessor, Wang Yang, who told local officials a year ago to focus more on industrial upgrades and social reform, while keeping a cool head about GDP.
Echoing Hu's remarks, the director of Guangdong's statistics bureau, Xing Xiaowei warned that Jiangsu, whose GDP expanded by 10.1 per cent in 2012, would overtake Guangdong in 2015 "if we do not accelerate our pace", the Guangdong party mouthpiece, Nanfang Daily, reported on Saturday.
Dr Peng Peng , a researcher at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said it was "only a matter of time" before Jiangsu overtook Guangdong, as the former was already doing better in terms of investment and the use of foreign funds.
"Jiangsu's GDP is only 310 billion yuan less than Guangdong's… So the sense of urgency is growing," Peng said.
Guangdong's deputy party secretary, Zhu Mingguo, told a panel of political advisory congress members over the weekend that "we have to grit our teeth and speed up growth", according to The Southern Metropolis Daily. "What will Guangdong people think of the new government if we lose our edge to Jiangsu?" he added.
Xu Shaohua, another deputy governor, said that sticking to economic development should remain the top priority for Guangdong, even when other factors such as resource constraints, efficiency and social equity were considered.
The comments were a departure from the policy priorities of Wang, who emphased quality of growth and tackling social woes.
"We'll lose our opportunity to transform the economy if too much attention is paid to GDP figures… If Jiangsu wants to take over, just let it," he told the provincial party congress a year ago.
Peng said the drastic turnaround showed that Hu, a rising political star, could not afford to lose Guangdong's economic edge under his leadership. "Maintaining the top spot is important for Hu if he wants to move higher," he said.