Many of Guangdong's leaders look back on last year and, economically speaking, say 'Good riddance'. And as they meet for a high-level congress this week, they are anxiously looking for a better 2010. Guangdong's below-average performance in last year's gross domestic product figures, released yesterday, means that the reforms ordered by provincial Communist Party secretary Wang Yang have not fared well, analysts say. The economy grew 9.5 per cent last year, lower than the average 11.4 per cent of the 31 provinces and municipalities, and ranked 27th. By comparison, Inner Mongolia grew 17 per cent, Tianjin 16.5 per cent and Jiangsu, which also relies heavily on labour-intensive manufacturing, 12.4 per cent. The analysts add that Wang has backtracked and realised that low-end manufacturing was actually the economic powerhouse's lifeblood and his blueprint to dump the sector will worsen exports, batter factories and result in massive lay-offs. Export orders plummeted when the global economic crisis hit in late 2008 and Guangdong leaders were under pressure to upgrade. Wang, a member of the Politburo, said the downturn provided an opportunity to revolutionise Guangdong's manufacturing sector and officials should 'empty the bird cage for new birds to settle down'. He ordered tough reforms that included encouraging enterprises to move labour-intensive manufacturing out of the Pearl River Delta and make way for service and technology-driven industries. But in the second half of last year, the policy softened. Wang began telling officials the backward production forces were actually a valuable source of maintaining economic growth and the employment rate to avoid social unrest, the Nanfang Daily reported early this month. Last year's GDP rate was the lowest in 30 years, despite Guangdong spending a record one trillion yuan (HK$1.14 trillion) to stimulate the economy. The industrial upgrade came to a standstill. Leaders also failed to introduce efficient measures to enhance independent innovation, transform traditional industries and establish modern industrial systems 12 months after the master plan had been approved by the State Council. Commentators and economists said Guangdong's economy would be suffering less if Wang had not advocated the industrial transformation that resulted in company failures and discouraged investors. Zhu Jianguo, a Shenzhen-based independent commentator, assailed the forced elimination of low-end manufacturing, calling it a blow to already battered confidence and a throwback to the planned economy. 'Even before the mandatory elimination, factories across the Pearl River delta were persecuted by a combination of rising production costs, plunging export orders and paper-thin margins. The forcible relocation added frost to the snow,' Zhu said. 'It wasn't a market-oriented but government-decided campaign. In the previous three decades, Guangdong enjoyed the fastest economic development in the country, thanks to fewer administrative decrees from the government. But the tough relocation policies strangled the vigorous market forces.' Shanghai-based economic columnist Ye Tan also believed the elimination of low-end industries was an unwise decision. 'The truth behind the 'emptying the bird cage for new birds to settle down' is Guangdong has neither the new cage nor the phoenix ready,' Ye wrote in her blog. 'The result of such a policy would only kill the last sparrow in the cage. [The government] acted against the market by labelling low-end and high-end industries and trying to get rid of the former.' The province has set its GDP growth at 9 per cent this year and has placed emphasis on growth. 'Such a target has considered Guangdong's important role in China's economic development, and the province should sustain its contribution to the country's steady growth,' Wang told the provincial party Standing Committee during a plenary session this month. '[We'll] also need to maintain economic growth to boost the employment rate, increase household income, improve people's livelihood and maintain social stability.'