Resource-rich western regions could help ease bottlenecks in the country's supply of energy and raw materials, provided Beijing gave more aid, a senior CPPCC delegate said yesterday. Ai Pishan , chairman of the Shaanxi provincial CPPCC, said the current level of support from the central government was not enough to promote development in the west. 'The central government should earmark more funds and grant more preferential policies to help realise the enormous development potential in the areas and minimise the [development] disparity between regions,' Mr Ai said on the sidelines of the NPC meeting. Mr Ai, who is also a national CPPCC delegate, said Beijing should give western areas even more preferential treatment than that granted to coastal special economic zones in the early 1980s. 'To completely copy the preferential policies the central government granted to the special economic zones is not enough,' he said. Mr Ai said exploration for natural resources on the mainland would require a shift in the focus of development to the west. The search for coal, oil or natural gas would require faster development of infrastructure, such as railways and roads. Mr Ai said late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had initiated the strategy of first encouraging the development of the southeast coastal areas, while former president Jiang Zemin had shifted the development focus towards the west. The current leadership had been emphasising the need to help the poor and underdeveloped regions. Mr Ai said the development of the west would help achieve the goal of narrowing income disparity and alleviating poverty. With the new leadership increasingly focused on improving the lot of poor people in rural areas, western regions could expect to benefit from increased infrastructure investment and other preferential investment policies, Mr Ai said.