Hainan reflects the fruits of reform and opening-up
The past four decades have seen China perform a development miracle, which is reflected in its regional and local successes. Among the regions to have tasted economic success is China's youngest province of Hainan, which this year marks its 30th anniversary as a province.
I spent last week in the province talking with veteran politicians at the annual Boao Forum for Asia, as well as chatting with taxi drivers, waiters and even pedestrians. Those inspiring conversations showed how the right policies and their implementation can bring about positive economic and social change. For example, Hainan's per capita GDP soared from less than $200 in 1988 to $7,179 last year.
Thanks to reform and opening-up, Hainan is now home to a number of dazzling villas and high-rise holiday apartments, offers jobs and a better life to its residents, and draws hundreds of thousands of travelers from home and abroad.
But despite the rapid development, they feel proud that the island province is still one of the cleanest places in China while many other regions in the country are suffering from various degrees of environmental woes because of rapid industrialization and urbanization, although China has now taken strict measures to correct the situation.
In addition to the tangible successes of its special economic zone, Hainan has also contributed to China's accumulating soft power.
The Boao Forum for Asia has already become a platform for the exchange of economic thoughts and ideas for Asian people in less than two decades, similar to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Apart from the annual forum, the tiny, tranquil town of Boao also attracts thousands of people from around the world to other meetings throughout the year. The debates and the ideas exchanged at those events play an important role in China's efforts to promote regional cooperation and integration, as well as globalization and free trade.
Besides, the universities, institutions conducting research in reform policies, agriculture and especially hybrid rice are also blossoming in the province.
On Friday, I attended a book launch at the 26-year-old Haikou-based China Institute for Reform and Development and was impressed to see the think tank, headed by scholar Chi Fulin, has built such a wide network of international academics, published so many influential books and reports, and has been making efforts to turn its proposals into China's reform practices. Following his proposal to build Hainan into an international tourist attraction, Chi is also making sincere efforts to ensure the about 10 million residents in the province use only clean energy by 2025, and encouraging vocational and healthcare education.
These measures will prove critical in the coming decades, because providing better air and clean water for the people has become a priority for the government, and China's demographic changes and industrial restructuring demand a well-educated workforce.
Still, while considering its future development strategy, Hainan should keep in mind that it is relatively less developed as its current per capita GDP is about $1,000 less than the country's average－and its gap with Shenzhen and Shanghai is shockingly wide.
Therefore, how to quicken the pace of its development and make it inclusive should top the province's agenda. And while making efforts to achieve this goal, Hainan must try to turn itself into a regional center and prepare a blueprint for the next three decades of development.
Hainan can become the gateway connecting the rest of Asia with China through the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road－one of the two routes of the Belt and Road－as it neighbors several Asian countries. Therefore Hainan needs to use this special advantage to become a leading player in the Belt and Road Initiative and China's further reform and opening-up.
The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.