SHANDONG is laying down strategic plans to transform itself into a top province in 15 years. Governor Li Chunting said rapid reforms would modernise infrastructure and industry and narrow the developmental imbalance between eastern and western regions. Mr Li revealed the moves which were recently finalised in the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1996-2000) and the 15-year Economic Blueprint (1996-2010). In the next five years, annual economic growth is expected to reach 10 per cent, slightly above the national target of eight or nine per cent for 1996-2000. Shandong, the third largest province with a population of 87 million, had achieved an average 16.7 per cent yearly increase in Gross Domestic Product from 1991 to 1995. 'Our province is big now but not strong at all . . . but I believe we can become a big and strong one through modernisation by the year of 2010,' said Mr Li, who became Governor in February. 'Through industrial and agricultural reforms, we will gain the lead in economic development, ahead of many northeastern and southern provinces,' he said. According to the new economic blueprints, the provincial Government will grant preferential policies and invest more in impoverished western districts, including areas around Liaocheng, Jining and Heze, along the newly built Beijing-Kowloon Railway. By 2000, tens of billions of yuan would have been spent on 50 infrastructure and industrial projects, he said, including 1,500 kilometres of highways, the Shandong section of Beijing-Shandong Express Railway and two internal railway systems. The long-awaited rail-ferry service between Yantai and Dalian of Liaoning was also expected to start soon. Also on the list are more than a dozen factories in heavy industries such as car-making, petrochemical production, gold-refinery and construction materials. He was confident the State Council would grant approval as Shandong had never gone through serious 'ups and downs' in its development in the early 1990s when the Government constantly adjusted economic policies. 'The economies of northeastern provinces have relied too much - about 70 per cent - on heavy industries while the southern ones have relied very much on light industries. We have a balanced development in both sectors,' he said. Shandong, aiming to give full play to its agricultural and natural resources, has drafted four strategies to develop different districts. Apart from giving preferential treatment to develop tourism and food-processing industries in the west, the Government plans to improve rail systems between northern and central regions to strengthen petro-chemical industries. In well-developed cities such as Qingdao and Yantai along the eastern coast, industrial and commercial enterprises will be restructured to boost economic output. But he admitted the province had yet to establish 'dragonhead' industries, was slow in attracting foreign capital and faced water shortages.